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“Memphis”; “La Cage Aux Folles”; “Come Fly Away” – Broadway (reviews) July 31, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater.
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A week after seeing a few new musicals on Broadway, I’ve still been thinking about each of them, and that says a lot.

The 2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical (along with a handful of other awards), MEMPHIS has clearly found a longterm home for itself at the Shubert Theater. Long in development (several years and several different theaters), it was all worth it for a show that is tuneful, current, and has something to say. I have to admit that until I saw the number the show did on the Tony Awards, it wasn’t a musical that was high on my radar. In fact, there hasn’t been a single commercial or advertisement for the show out here in the midwest, and their marketing efforts have clearly been aimed at the East Coast.

But it’s terrific. Chad Kimball is outstanding in the role of Huey, and his “Memphis Lives in Me” is soul-stirring. Montego Glover plays his muse, singer Felicia Farrell.  Their chemistry together sizzles. The show tells of the birth of rock-and-roll in early 50’s racially segregated Memphis, and it’s a doozy of a story. While not a true story, it brings together real-life elements and is loosely based on real people and events. If the finale smacks a bit of “Hairspray”, it’s not a bad thing. “Steal your Rock and Roll” has been running through my head all week.

This show is almost entirely the same crew that brought us Jersey Boys several seasons ago. It just as slick, fast-moving, and high-tech. I loved it and am ashamed to say I waited 10 months to see it. Highly Recommended.

Over at the Longacre, a different treat altogether is in store:

Tony Winner Douglas Hodge and delightful Kelsey Grammer are having the “Best of Times” creating the world that is La Cage. An import from London’s Menier Chocolate Factory (and much better than their Night Music running across the street) the show is a sheer delight from start to finish.

I have never been a huge fan of this show — until now. I’ve seen all three major productions of it now, and the previous two were overblown and Hello Dollyesque (original production) or just heartless and empty (first revival). This import is a horse of an entirely different color – and it’s a wonderful change.

Gone are the huge overblown production numbers and Ziegfeld-quality gowns. Instead, cue the new Cagelles — 6 superb and athletic (and no-mistaking masculine) drag queens who you would never mistake for Vegas show girls — they trip over heels, flex their muscles in the middle of numbers, and at one point perform a number with inflated beach balls that they toss into the audience that it makes you marvel at the ineptness of it all — and it’s perfect. When the audience gently bounces the beachballs back to the stage, the Cagelles don’t hesitate to kick them back into the audience as if they were going for an overtime Field Goal. It made me laugh out loud.

No less brilliant is Robin de Jesus as Jacob the butler/maid. He’s over the top and fabulous, and a far cry from his recent role in In The Heights. A shout out to University of Michigan’s own A.J. Shively as Jean-Michel.

By the time ZaZa has performed “The Best of Times is Now”, you have long been won over by this wonderful production, clearly the best I have seen of this problematic show. It left me wanting to spend more time in this “Cage”, madwomen or madmen and all.

My final show on this trip was Come Fly Away at the Marquis Theater.

A new Twyla Tharp “musical”, it’s similar in style and form to her superior “Movin’ Out”, but it makes for an enjoyable and light evening of dance theater. Because that is exactly what it is — I don’t know how they qualify dance shows to be classified as “musicals”, but this is dance theater no doubt about it. There is no storyline, there is no original music (it’s all set to Sinatra tunes) and there is no standard musical theater format. I have to admit that the only reason I went to see this is because I have seen every other musical of interest on Broadway right now, and at least it was something new.

Yet it all works, thanks to Twyla Tharp’s excellent choreography, and her very talented dancers, including stalker-worthy John Selya (who played Eddie in Movin’ Out). In fact, many of the dancers in this production have previously been seen in Tharp’s previous dance shows – both on Broadway and in dance concerts.

Set in a nightclub, live orchestration accompanies Sinatra’s own voice singing the songs, with occasional harmony from a female singer. The dance couples arrive, fight, mingle, form new couplings, and by the second act are pretty much inexplicably shirtless and dancing their muscled bodies about the club as they toss their female counterparts around the stage as if they were pretty ragdolls.

It’s gorgeous dance – and it’s a wonderful night of dance theater. But it isn’t a musical.  I completely enjoyed this dance show – but that is what it is, plain and simple.

See it while you can — I saw it on a Saturday night, and the house was probably only at 80 percent sold — and half of that from discounted tickets.

So, that’s the view from Broadway right now.


1. kim - August 12, 2010

I LOVE Come Fly Away! I just wanted to point out that it actually was not nominated for Best Musical this year, and that John Selya played Eddie in Movin’ Out. (Though he was nominated for a Tony award for his amazing performance!)

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