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The Book of Mormon…Catch Me If You Can…Sister Act…(Broadway, reviews) July 31, 2011

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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I can’t remember a time I spent a few days in NYC seeing musicals that there wasn’t at least one so-so show in the bunch…instead, all three musicals I saw this past weekend on Broadway were all excellent in their own ways, with their own strengths.

No doubt about it, Broadway’s hottest current ticket (and 9-time Tony winner) The Book of Mormon at the Eugene O’Neill theater is something else. It’s the strangest, dirtiest, and funniest musical I think you will ever see. And guess what — the tunes are hummable and pretty good!

The production is ensemble through and through, and while the leads are very strong, some of the ensemble members actually steal the show from time to time. And it’s meant to be that way. “Turn it Off”, a paean to repressed emotion, features the strongest song-and-dance sequence (although “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” comes pretty close too.)  This is a show where the music and lyrics are so intricately integrated into the book, that the show virtually races from scene to scene and neither overpowers the other. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea; the show uses language that could make a sailor blush — but it’s all in good fun. Personally, it’s one of those shows where my parents would walk out minutes into the show — but it’s not designed for them, nor for the casual musical goer. Call this “South Park” for adults, humor run amuck. I loved every second of this deliriously funny musical. The merchandise stands do very swift business selling “Hasa Diga Eebowai” t-shirts. I suspect NYC schools will ban them this fall — the rest of the country needs to find out what that phrase means for themselves. You can get them online at bookofmormonbroadway.com/

A block north, Catch Me if you Can has taken up residence at the Neil Simon theater.  This one is all about Norbert Leo Butz, who outperforms lead Aaron Tveit in every scene he is in. Not to say that Aaron isn’t very good — he certainly is (and he gets the requisite hoots and hollers when he takes his shirt off), but there is nothing in this show that can eclipse the Tony-winning performance by Norbert. If you saw his number on the Tony awards, you know he has energy to spare. But there is a lot of good going on this show, not the least of which are wonderful performances by Tom Wopat and Kerry Butler in supporting roles.

From music and lyrics to set design and costuming, this is a whiz-bang entertainment. The story works well in this musical setting, and it’s another great evening out for adults (I can’t imagine anyone under the age of 15 will be able to sit still for this one — it’s themes of self-creation, ego-disintegration, and self-centeredness require some maturity and life experience to fully appreciate.). The story unfolds slowly, in spectacular show-within-a-show fashion. You know how it ends. Getting there is what makes this so fun. And the direction (Jack O’Brien) and choreography (Jerry Mitchell)  are about as fluid as you will find on Broadway right now. The production itself owes a lot to the revival of “Chicago” 14 years ago. The orchestra is on a tiered set onstage (a convention I don’t like in any production), and set pieces fly and pop-up through stage traps. Things run efficiently and very quickly to cover locals throughout the US and overseas. Had The Book of Mormon not raised it’s delerious head, this show would have won the Tony for Best Musical this year hands down.

And around the corner, Sister Act has what is sure to be a longterm home at the Broadway Theater. In a multi-million dollar production, the show is crowd-pleasing and family friendly (not something that can be said for most of the seasons other new shows).

The real find here is Patina Miller in the role created by Whoopi Goldberg. Her voice soars in the many gospel-cum-Broadway songs, and her stage presence in a force to be reckoned with….it’s the rare performer who can make someone like Victoria Clark (in a superb performance as the reverend mother) fight for her right to party.  But she has had several years of experience stealing the spotlight: she also played the role on London’s West End where the show originated.

Granted, the storyline here is relatively thin — it’s up to the music and the very strong ensemble company to make this one shine. And shine it does. The crowd ate it up. You will too. Skeptics need not apply (see Book of Mormon instead).

Tickets for Catch Me If you Can and Sister Act are readily available online and at the box office. The Book of Mormon is another story altogether. I purchased my tickets while I was in NYC in December. The first good tickets I could find were this past weekend (in July). Tickets are on sale through 2012, and don’t expect to get any tickets for months  — this is Broadway’s hottest ticket since The Producers, and because it isn’t reliant on specific “stars” it will continue to sell no matter whom is in the cast. By all means get tickets — just expect to wait.

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