I Just Saw 9 Broadway Shows in New York City and These Were My Favorites
My husband and I got married in Central Park in March of 2017. Years before that, we started a March tradition of flying up to New York City and power-seeing Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Since getting married (despite a two-year interruption because of COVID-19), that tradition has continued and we just returned from our annual anniversary/theatre trip.
We saw nine shows over the course of eight days and here are my thoughts about them. I will say that there wasn't a dud in the bunch, which isn't always the case. We enjoyed every single show we saw during this trip. That said, I was still able to rank order them and want to share some thoughts about each.
So, here they are- from #9 to #1.
#9- & JULIET
An incredibly clever rewrite of the end of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. What would have happened if Juliet hadn't taken her own life at the end of that play? What would have become of her? Well, we find out as this jukebox musical (with music and lyrics by legendary producer Max Martin and friends and book by David West Read from Schitt's Creek fame) unfolds. Look, this soundtrack is fire. The cast recording could rather easily double as one of those Now That's What I Call Music albums. The show's clever, energetic and fun.
I only have two minor complaints that ultimately landed the show in my #9 spot. When I watch Broadway shows, I expect to walk away feeling something. That didn't really happen with & Juliet. It was rather lightweight. Plus, I will give the cast an "A" for effort, but the performances were pitchy at best the night we saw the show.
A virtual gay fantasia about the ill-fated Titanic. Actually, check that! It's about Celine Dion's version of what she thinks is the history of the Titanic.
This show is, at times, HILARIOUS! It sets sail under the premise that, because she had such a monster international smash with "My Heart Will Go On" from the soundtrack of the movie Titanic, Celine's now convinced that she was an integral part of the history of the ship. During the 1 hour and 40 minute production, she weaves (or rather forces) herself into the narrative.
It's hysterical fun! Shout out to understudy Courtney Bassett, who seamlessly stepped into the role of Celine Dion the evening we saw the show. And another shout out to Russell Daniels, who is side-splitting as Rose's mom, Ruth Dewitt Bukater. That is one of the funniest instances of stunt casting I have ever seen.
You have to love any show that can work in a RuPaul's Drag Race-inspired "lip sync for your life" (complete with a Miss Vanjie exit) and an iceberg named Tina Turner. The show's absolutely ridiculous and that's everything I wanted it to be.
#7- FUNNY GIRL
There's only one reason I wanted to see this show and her face is right there on the marquee. We had the privilege of sitting in the front row for Funny Girl and watching Lea Michele CRUSH it! I knew we were going to be in for a musical theatre treat when we sat down and met Michael. Michael has lived in New York City his entire life. He's almost 80 now. He was at the August Wilson, alone, for the fourth time. He was there in the front row for the same reason we were. Lea. And Lea delivered. I can tell you that Michael enjoyed the show his fourth time just as much as we did our first.
By the time Lea ripped into "Don't Rain On My Parade" at the end of Act One, she literally had us all in the palms of her hands. She's captivating. Her comic timing is impeccable. And her voice?? O.M.G.
Kevin and I have a "never see the same show twice" policy when it comes to shows on Broadway and off. We instituted that policy after seeing Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen, then seeing it again after his exit from the show and being woefully disappointed.
But, we made a concession for our golden rule because of Jinkx Monsoon's limited run as Matron "Mama" Morton in Chicago. We are HUGE Jinkx fans and we're apparently not alone. The week we attended was a record-setting week for Chicago in terms of box office. For the week ending March 12th (the day we saw the show), Chicago had its highest-grossing non-holiday week in the revival’s 26-year history. As one fan noted, "It's Monsoon season!"
And, yes. Jinkx was a blast in the role. But my favorite part of the show was Charlotte d'Amboise, who SLAYED the role of Roxie Hart. She was sexy, compelling, funny and brilliant.
There's a reason Chicago has enjoyed a 26-year revival on Broadway. It's got legs and it knows how to use them.
I actually work in country music so I am very familiar with the songwriting brilliance of Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. I know they can write country hits, but I didn't know they could write the hit score of a musical. But they've done it and we were lucky enough to be at the very first preview.
First, the marketing team at Shucked must be commended. You can't walk anywhere in New York City at the moment and not see some type of advertisement for the show. And, yes! That photo you're looking at is a Shucked food truck, which was parked outside said first preview and they were chucking various popcorn products out of it. Hell, I walked into Schmackary's, my favorite New York City cookie shop, and they have a friggin' Shucked cookie. Shucked is EVERYWHERE!
As for the musical, it's a "corny" romp through rural America. The show is 2+ hours of puns and I predict that it will live for eternity on the musical theatre stages of high schools around the country. There are lots of laughs, some hysterically fun performances, but the standout, for me (and everyone in the audience the night I saw the show) is Alex Newell, who rips the roof off the Nederlander with an Act One showstopper. That mid-show standing ovation was as raucous as the performance that earned it.
I have loved this musical since the original and was thrilled to have the opportunity to plop down in the front row for this rousing revival that stars Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond as Leo and Lucille Frank. It's Leo that's wrongfully accused of, tried for and convicted of the murder of a young female factory worker. Platt is all in here and even remains on stage, imprisoned, for the duration of the show's 15-minute intermission.
As good as he and Diamond are vocally, I was even more impressed with some members of the supporting cast. A stand out performance for me was Jake Pedersen. As Frankie (the boyfriend of Leo's alleged victim, Mary Phagan), he gives a bone-chilling performance of the song "It Don't Make Sense" that had me enraged and in tears.
#3- ANTHONY RAPP'S WITHOUT YOU
Speaking of tears, no show I saw during our trip resonated with me emotionally as much as this one. And, I'll be honest. I wasn't expecting the weight and power of Rapp's one-man show. I mean, I knew he was going to walk us through the early days of Rent and the unexpected and tragic death of Jonathan Larson. I also knew that he was going to share the story of his own mother, who was battling breast cancer at the same time the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical was being developed for its historic Broadway run. But Rapp weaves those two story lines together beautifully. I swear. I think I and nearly everyone else in the theatre wiped away tears throughout the last twenty minutes of the show. We know Anthony Rapp can act and sing, but storytelling may be his greatest gift.
#2- SOME LIKE IT HOT
I have seen few Broadway shows that have had me smiling the entire run time. But that's exactly the experience I had with this musical take on the MGM movie of the same name. Some Like It Hot is the PERFECT modern musical update to the story of two musicians who are forced to go undercover as women because they witness a deadly mob hit. That may sound like a rather grim premise for a comedy, but trust me on this. This show is comedy gold and is propelled by pitch-perfect performances by Christian Borle as Joe/Josephine and J. Harrison Ghee as Jerry/Daphne. And I must give additional shout outs to NaTasha Yvette Williams, who anchors the show as Sweet Sue, and the ridiculously gifted Adrianna Hicks, who sings her face off as Sugar.
Everyone in this cast is ON. FREAKING. POINT. And so is the choreography! If you need any proof, just watch the frantic and brilliantly conceived and staged chase sequence that puts an exhilarating exclamation point on Act Two.
#1- LIFE OF PI
This blew me away. I will admit that the show may not resonate with everyone in the way it did me. See, for ten years of my life, I hosted a radio show called The Screening Room. Yes, for those ten years I reviewed movies- like four or five a week. In addition to my radio show, I also wrote movie reviews for a couple of magazines. I quit that show on its 10th anniversary and, when I did, I quit movies cold as well. In fact, I didn't see a movie for years after that. I had become worn out by them and had no use for film anymore. This is why I always tell people, "Never allow a hobby to become your job."
It was during my self-imposed sabbatical from cinema that the movie Life of Pi was released. So, I didn't see it and I went into the stage play rather oblivious to the story. But that story and this magnificent staging of it were ingenious. I cannot say enough about the visual imagery in this show. The puppetry, the lighting and the set design are mesmerizing. The story and performances? Captivating.
I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the first preview. Sure, there were a couple of minor hiccups that night. However, Life of Pi is the adventure of a lifetime. It's harrowing and tragic, but ultimately a beautiful love story about the human spirit. In the wake of unthinkable tragedies, humans can summon unbelievable physical strength. Pi does. But it's our mental fortitude that's even more impressive. And how Pi is able to define, embrace and portray the demons around him is moving and magical.
I love this show. It was a monster hit on the West End and won Best New Play at the UK Theatre Awards in 2019. Mark it down. It's going to win a Tony or two as well.