On Broadway


Another opening, another show.

Any chance we get.

Every spring break for several years now, my wife Sherry and I have flown to New York to rediscover our passion as lifelong students of acting and theater.

Over the years, we’ve also taken in tourist sites but our main focus has been attending as many professional productions as possible.

This year we made it to eight new Broadway shows in and around Times Square and two in smaller theaters — termed Off-Broadway — with seating capacities between 100 and 499.

Last month, all of the Broadway productions we saw received multiple nominations (50 in all) for Tony Awards, the most prestigious prizes handed out to theatrical endeavors on the Great White Way. This year’s ceremony will take place June 9 at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan and will be televised on CBS.

Late last spring on this page, I gave you a peek at what we saw on that trip. I thought you might like to take another little tour this year.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a hilarious but touching new play about three dysfunctional siblings in Bucks County, Penn., who eventually rediscover love and hope. Featured are brilliant comedic performances by Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce and the rubber-faced Kristine Nielsen. You know such stellar work is hard when it looks so easy.

We sure got a kick out of “Kinky Boots,” a dazzling new musical by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper that leads the Tony nomination pack this year. A cast with impressive depth tells the tale ­— based on a true story — of an Englishman who is inspired by a drag performer to turn his inherited, bankrupt shoe factory into a niche manufacturer of “kinky boots” for men. As you might expect, it’s a message of embracing acceptance of others. But it adds a cautionary twist: If you don’t or if you stray, feel fortunate to be forgiven ... and accepted yourself.

We were disappointed in the best-selling new hit, “Motown.” To me, it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a revue, a concert or a Broadway musical. The production-number snippets are expertly performed. But there are dozens, woven haphazardly within shallow scenes of lines written self-servingly by Motown founder Berry Gordy. What emerges is a three-hour, unrevealing and pedantic tribute to himself.

In a revival of the powerful dark comedy “Orphans,” three men find themselves in a North Philadelphia row house — only too late. I can no longer resist admiring the talent of Alec Baldwin. Ben Foster, who replaced bad boy Shia LeBeouf in rehearsals, couldn’t be better. Equally impressive is Tom Sturridge as Foster’s socially sequestered brother. The show is closing today, but what a great ensemble cast.

“The Assembled Parties” is a moving story about a Jewish family in Manhattan that coexists with secrets never truthfully revealed. Judith Light eerily transforms into a perfectly believable octogenarian. Direction is tight as a drum.

The acclaimed British import “Matilda The Musical” came to New York with high expectations. Based on the children’s book, young Matilda uses her magical powers to save her teacher and herself from the evil clutches of most adults around her. The cast is good, especially the sincere and determined teacher played by Lauren Ward and Bertie Carvel, who portrays the evil headmistress. But the real stars are the set and special effects. Not my favorite show, but fun and full of spectacle.

We took a field trip to a tiny theater in Greenwich Village to see the legendary Vanessa Redgrave in a new play, “The Revisionist.” Set in modern-day Poland, it was written especially for her by co-star Jesse Eisenberg. Redgrave, considered by some to be the finest actor of her generation, gave a vivid portrayal of an elderly Holocaust survivor. But at times she was so quiet that many of her lines were swallowed. We, and others in the audience, could only guess at the play’s final revelation.

I truly can’t remember when we’ve laughed harder or longer than at a performance of Off-Broadway’s “Old Hats.” Two master comedians, Bill Irwin and David Shiner, have teamed with quirky musician Nellie McKay to present a series of perfectly timed, hilarious old-time vaudeville sketches. It made us wonder whether the baggy pants, big shoes, nimble bodies, silly sequences and rubber faces of a century ago were ever as good.

In “The Trip to Bountiful,” Horton Foote’s lovely play set in Texas in 1953, Cicely Tyson portrays Carrie Watts, an old woman who escapes a stifling existence by returning to her hometown of Bountiful one last time to find the strength to continue living. The riveting Tyson exudes warmth, humor and determination that are positively palpable. Cuba Gooding Jr., in his first professional stage appearance, is spot-on as her concerned son. And in the difficult role of his wife, Vanessa Williams strikes the perfect balance between selfishness and reluctant sympathy for her mother-in-law. This is probably our favorite this year.

Powerful, poignant and passionate describe “Lucky Guy,” the late Nora Ephron’s last play. The incomparable Tom Hanks portrays Mike McAlary, a hard-hitting, real-life journalist during New York’s tabloid wars of the 1980s and ’90s. Hanks, in his Broadway debut, leads a stellar cast that incisively displays cockiness, fear and ultimately courage. It’s very much a tribute to the glory days of newspapers.


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