My Top 13 Theatre Moments (or Shows!) of 2012

I was going through my theatre-related posts of this year and I couldn’t pick just 10. Since this is my blog and I make the rules, I decided to do 13. 

1. Bring It On: I had my doubts and reservations about this musical, and maybe I’m a little biased after working on it for a few months, but I loved this show. It was visually stunning, fun, and not totally void of meaning. It had a good meaning overall: Life goes on after high school. I love this show, I’m sad it closed yesterday, and I will definitely miss it.

2. Merrily We Roll Along @ Encores: I went to the final performance and it was my first time having seen it – though I’d heard the music before. The cast was fantastic, as was the material. The atmosphere was also electric. Everyone was so excited to be there.

3. The Other Josh Cohen: This was just a gem of a show. I’m so glad I got to see it.

4. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? revival: I had reservations about this too, having seen the last revival with Kathleen Turner, but upon being offered a free ticket, who was I to turn it down? It ended up being pretty incredible. It was probably one of the best things to open on Broadway this fall.

5. Harvey @ Studio 54: A supposed allegory for homosexuality in the mid-20th century, Jim Parsons killed his roll and this show. Loved it.

6. The Bad and the Better (by The Amoralists): I love The Amoralists. This show was a complex story with many layers and a huge cast. It was pretty epic. I don’t know how they afforded to do it, but they definitely did.

7. James Corden in One Man, Two Guv’nors: I loved this play and I probably loved it because James Corden was so goddamn funny. He absolutely killed onstage. He deserved his TONY Award.

8. The Lyons: I saw this play off-Broadway and loved, and saw it twice more on Broadway. I loved it every single time. Probably because Linda Lavin reminded me of my late Jewish grandmother. And… Michael Esper.

9. Once’s Transfer to Broadway: I think the producers transfered this show well. Not much got lost in the bigger space in the Jacobs Theatre and the spirit of the show remained intact. I loved it off-Broadway and it made me cry (twice) on Broadway. I wasn’t sure whether transferring this show was the right thing to do, but I’m happy that they’re doing well ($1 million+/week).  

10. Tribes: This was an off-Broadway show not to be missed. It deserved every bit of praise it received. I loved it a lot possibly because the lead was hearing-impaired so it made it that much more believable, but who knows. It had a healthy run at The Barrow Group and is now going to LA. 

11. Carrie: A cult classic that only existed in bootleg form before MCC revived it. It was cheesy and the music wasn’t so stellar, and I wished there’d been more blood, but it was an experience to be had and seen. I’m definitely glad I paid $20 to sit in the second row. 

12. Jesus Christ Superstar‘s Resurrection: The revival in 2000 wasn’t so good – except for Tony Vincent, duh – but I loved, loved, loved this one, which transferred from the Stratford Theatre Festival. It felt like a digital update, but the incredible rock score was still the intact and the cast was incredible. I don’t care what anyone says, Josh Young was an incredible Judas. I saw this revival twice and my only regret is that I wished I’d seen it again!

13. Assistance: I was an assistant when I saw this so I definitely related. It was hysterical, vulgar, and exaggerated (though I’m sure it’s not so exaggerated for some people). The ending also wins for ‘most unrelated and random ending ever.’ Also: Michael Esper.

That’s my run-down for 2012. There were a dozen or more shows that I saw and didn’t write about (because I suck sometimes), but I’ll try to be better about writing about EVERYTHING in 2013. What were your top theatre moments in 2012? Happy new year!

I adore Jim Parsons. When I was first made to watch The Big Bang Theory at my parent’s house, I immediately deemed his character my favorite. Parsons was also fantastic in his tiny role in The Normal Heart. He can actually act, and it’s always lovely to see live onstage so I was very much looking forward to seeing him in Harvey.

Harvey, based on the book of the same title, is about a sweet, caring, genuine 39 year old man named Elwood who happens to have an imaginary friend who’s a six foot tall white rabbit named Harvey. When his family is faced with the prospect of living with Elwood and Harvey together, or put him through therapy to make him “like everyone else,” they decide that being “like everyone else” isn’t a particularly good thing.

Tracee Chimo (Bachelorette) plays Elwood’s snotty sister convincingly, and Jessica Hecht (A View From the Bridge) is understanding and caring as Veta, Elwood’s mother. Parsons steals the show, of course, in his Sheldon-esque portrayal of Elwood. He is genuine and eager to explore the world around him with his friend.

Harvey plays through August 5th. Don’t miss your chance to see Jim Parsons in this heartwarming work. 

I saw Suicide Incorporated at Roundabout’s black box theatre a few weeks ago right before it opened. It told the story of a group of men who worked for a company that would be hired to write eloquent suicide notes for people. Sounds like a romantic comedy, right?

I won’t say too much about it, but I did enjoy it a lot. The main character (Gabriel Ebert) was a former greeting card writer who was not shifting careers after his brother committed suicide (Jake O’Connor). As in Next to Normal, there’s an ah-ha moment where we are clued-in to the fact that the brother isn’t actually alive as we’ve been lead to believe from the beginning.  I’m a big fan of these moments for some reason.  O’Connor’s acting was fantastic making him my favorite of the ensemble. The set is also impressive, clean, and versatile as the scenes shift quite often in 20 seconds or less.

Suicide Inc. is playing through December 23rd.  Click here for more information.

(photo copyright Walter McBride)

As per usual this season, Roundabout Theatre Company sold a handful of $10 mezzanine tickets to the first few previews of The People in the Picture.  As usual, I bought two.  I didn’t know what the script was about, and I’d heard reactions that went both ways so I had no idea what to expect.  People was about a grandmother telling her granddaughter stories of their family and theatre troupe in Europe as the Nazis took power during World War II, and her daughter who wanted nothing to do with this past for reasons that are revealed towards the end of Act 2.  

The score is okay, but every other song sounded a bit like “L’chaim” from Fiddler on the Roof, and none of it is very memorable.  The writer and director still need to find the balance of humor and misery because right now there is a LOT of misery and only a small amount of humor.  It tries really hard to be a funny play though.  It just can’t compare with the serious topic on hand.  

Donna Murphy is absolutely incredible in this show as the grandmother (Raisel) who is falling ill rather quickly but still trying to tell her granddaughter the stories of World War 2.  She switches between being 20 and 70 in a moments notice and it’s brilliant.  It was my first time actually seeing her onstage, so it was a treat. 

Alexander Gemignani, Christopher Innvar, Nicole Parker, Chip Zien, Rachel Resheff were stand-outs in the cast of solidly talented actors.  It’s always a treat to see Chip Zien onstage, and Rachel Resheff as the granddaughter, Jenny, was weak in her acting but made up for it with her voice and movement.  Louis Hobson, of Next to Normal notoriety, also made a few appearances onstage as, what else?  A doctor.  

I enjoy almost anything having to do with this moment of history, so I may be biased but I think with a bit of work The People in the Picture could be quite superb.  I tip my hat to Roundabout for putting up a new musical about such a off-beat topic.  

(photo via)

I finally got a chance to view The Language Archive two weeks ago after putting it off for far too long.  I went in knowing nothing about the plot except that it was about a man who studied languages.  I’d heard mixed reviews; everything from “it’s amazing” to “it’s awful.”  I tried to go in with an open mind.

I found the first act to be incredibly confusing.  The linguist’s wife leaves him and meets a man on the train platform; the two native Esperanto speakers who the researcher has flown into the city to study do nothing but continuously fight (because, they say, English is the perfect language for fighting); and the researchers assistant is falling in love with him.  At the end, we see the researcher’s wife is waving to the man she’s met on the platform and holding the box that he was initially holding when they first met.  I was confused because I had no idea what was going on, and no inclination of what was going to happen, but contrary to most plays I see with act one cliff-hangers, I didn’t care what was going to happen.  I just wanted to go home.

But I didn’t, of course.  I stayed and the second act made everything make sense, although it wasn’t a whole lot of sense that was made but the second act was a whole lot easier to watch.  

Performances were solid all around, the set was beautiful, and lighting did exactly what it was supposed to. This probably would’ve been much more interesting had I ever heard of Esperanto before, but I had not and I think that’s where my enjoyment of this piece dove off a cliff, never to be found again, like many ancient languages.  

If you’re going to see this show, make sure you know what it’s about first. 

(image via)

My first reaction to Brief Encounter, written by Noel Coward and adapted by Emma Rice, last night was, “Wow, that was different” and in a good way.  Slow moving it was, strange to the umpteenth degree too, but it was a different show and I can certainly understand why people are saying it’s amazing. 

Brief Encounter is based on the movie of the same title and tells the story of what happens to two strangers who serendipitously meet in a train station and the subsequent brief encounters that lead to their affair.

The staging reminded me of The 39 Steps, in the way it was a black and white movie-turned-play with numerous ridiculous (but hilarious and well-executed) props.  The set was versatile but relied heavily on the upstage scrim on which numerous images and backdrops were projected.  The supporting cast members also doubled as musicians when some of Noel Coward’s songs were interspersed through out the scenes.   

I was often confused by the dramatic “whoosh’s” that would blow through the actors onstage and pause the action for a moment (with waves crashing in the background) but overall it was pretty easy to stay on course with such a simple story line. 

Anyone who is into design should definitely consider a viewing of Brief Encounter.  If you want to see something different, this is also a show for you. 

Brief Encounter is playing at Studio 54 through December 5th.  More information here

(photo via playbill.com)

Mrs. Warren’s Profession – Spoiler Alert

No one knows why Roundabout chose to revive Mrs. Warren’s Profession now.  I doubt they even know.

This two hour and fifteen minute play felt like it was three hours.  The person next to me was sleeping through the first act and at times I felt as if I had to keep myself awake during the first hour too.  It’s only redeeming qualities were Cherry Jones and Sally Hawkins, as well as the brief moment of feminism that the script delivers during the end of the first act.  

Spoiler Alert: Mrs. Warren’s Profession is about a mother (Mrs. Warren) who is seeing her now grown daughter for the first time in many years after a long line of private schools and higher education.  She reveals to her daughter that she’s a prostitute and during the play she tries to convince her daughter to join the family business, per se, and make more money than she could ever imagine.  In the end, her daughter declines.

The brief moment of feminism came from Jones when she was trying to explain to her daughter why she took up prostitution.  I don’t remember what the exact lines are but it’s something along the lines of “I did what I had to do and I make more money than all of them, and I’m not going to let society make me feel bad about it.”  I think.  

I wish I’d had caffeine before I sat down to watch Mrs. Warren’s Profession, but I think as long as you know that the script is dry and maybe research what the play is about, you have shot at enjoying it.  The worst possible scenario: You get to watch Cherry Jones own another stage.  

Not too shabby.  

And lastly (yes, I promise!), a few of my favorite off-Broadway Playbills.  Looking through my collection, I was really proud of all the random stuff I’ve seen (L-R):

  • SLUT! the Musical: This musical was hilarious and starred Andy Karl and Mary Faber (before she was an Idiot).  
  • The Overwhelmed – at Roundabout which starred Michael Stahl-David, who later went on to star in Cloverfield.  
  • suBurbia – the revival at Second Stage which starred Kieran Culkin (as well as Michael Esper – though I totally don’t remember him in it!), and a bunch of extremely talented 20 something actors.
  • The Atheist – I went to see this solely because Chris Pine was starring.  It was a one man show and I thought he did a fantastic job.  
  • Spring Awakening – off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company in 2006.  We sat onstage and it was well, interesting to say the least.  I didn’t love it after the first act (I hated the microphones) but I got more into it in the second act.  Off-Broadway, John Gallagher Jr. made his entrance by popping out of the seat that was right next to my friend’s seat.  We both screamed when he popped up!
  • Distracted – starring Cynthia Nixon at Roundabout.  This was a play about a mother who battles with whether or not she should be medicating her child after he is diagnosed with ADD.  Nixon is a truly fantastic actress onstage and on-screen.
  • After Ashley – my first play at the Vineyard about the exploitation of tragedy in the 21st century, starring Dennis Hopper, Kieran Culkin, and Anna Paquin.  
  • Some Americans Abroad – about a school group abroad in London.  I went to see it solely because Anthony Rapp was in it.  
  • Walmartopia – I included this because it remains the ONLY show I’ve ever walked out of during intermission.  It was just that bad.  
  • Next to Normal at Second Stage.  To say the show was in shambles and way too long is an understatement.  The second act felt like it was 3 hours long.  It had some good moments but they definitely cleaned it up for the better.
  • Port Authority at Atlantic Theatre Company that starred John Gallagher Jr., Brian Darcy James, and Jim Norton.  It was… interesting.  I could’ve used a second viewing.  
  • Stuff Happens at the Public Theatre.  This was a play written by David O’Hare about the events after 9/11 that lead to the Iraq War.  The title comes from when Dick Cheney was quoted as saying “stuff happens!” in response to a question about a tragedy happening.  I loved this.  

This Week in Theatre

So, there were a few exciting announcements this week in the theatre world.  Let’s recap:

  • The rest of the cast for Leap of Faith at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles was announced!  I’m very excited because Kendra Kassebaum will be gracing the stage again with her talents – though I probably won’t get to LA to see it, I’m looking forward to the reviews. 
  • Did everyone hear that rehearsals for the much-anticipated Spider-Man musical are finally going to start? (Or recommence rather?)  I guess they finally found capital to get the project going again.  We’ll see how far they get before they close shop again.  The producers have had the Hilton Theatre on hold for many months now.  How much longer will we have to see those marquees before they light up?  Who knows.  
  • Roundabout Theatre Company announced that Anything Goes, starring Sutton Foster, is scheduled to start previews at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre (formerly the Henry Miller Theatre) April 7th, 2011.  I’m excited to see what RTC will do with this, but I’m less excited for Foster to star.  She’s very talented but in the last few shows I’ve seen her in, she’s started to phone it in.  
  • Daniel Radcliffe was announced as the star of the film version of the West End hit play The Woman in Black (not to be confused with the 2006 Broadway flop The Woman in White).  I was a huge fan of this play when I saw it in London in 2007.  I’m not sure why it hasn’t been brought to Broadway, but I’m very excited to see it on the big screen.  

Those are my highlights.  What were yours?

Last Wednesday night I ushered at Studio 54 and saw Sondheim on Sondheim for free in addition.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoy Sondheim’s music and how many memories his shows invoke for me.   I had always assumed that my prior exposure to Sondheim was limited, but in reality it’s not.  I’ve seen revivals of Into the Woods, Company, Sweeney Todd, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Assassins, Sunday in the Park With George, West Side Story, and Gypsy, as well as a production of Follies at Encores.  Although I like a majority of Sondheim’s scores, a lot of these productions were lack luster or poorly executed, in my opinion, mainly Sweeney Todd and Company (oh, John Doyle, what a mistake you were).

The show consisted of video footage of Sondheim talking about his life interspersed with songs from his shows sung by an all-star (by any means) cast which included Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat, Barbara Cook, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Euan Morton, Erin Mackey, and Matthew Scott.  

I enjoyed the show immensely and remembered how much I enjoy his scores, and also introduced me to shows I should know but didn’t like Merrily We Roll Along, Bounce, and Passion.  Clocking in at almost three hours, I almost would’ve preferred watched a documentary about Sondheim instead.

If you’re a theatre person though, this show is a must-see.  

(photo via)