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Fantastic “Dear Evan Hansen” and Acapella “In Transit” on Broadway (Reviews) December 15, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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There’s a new force of nature in the musical theater world and his name is Ben Platt who has arrived in a mail-the-Tony-to-him-now performance as the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Music Box Theatre — able to play both a lonely, communication-inept, misfit teenager and alternately explode in self-assured musical numbers with a voice that makes you drop your jaw this is a performance to be treasured…and it will be come award time.
The show itself has been very quiet in advertising what it is about, and for good reason, because like the (very similar) Next to Normal it is better to discover it’s many layers of family drama as the musical slowly explores themes of loneliness, grief, outsiders, outliers, lies, depression, and the pain of teenage angst when you find yourself unable to “fit in” even on social media (constant ticker tapes of which flicker and advance on the stages many screens).

The cast of 8 are remarkable performers, and they have terrific material to work with from writer Steven Levenson and music/lyrics by Benjamin Pasek & Justin Paul — front stacked with the explosive “Waving Through a Window” and “For Forever”. Director Michael Greif lets the show play out primarily downstage center, and the on-stage orchestra adds a feeling of urgency to everything. The very high-tech set and projections by David Korins and Peter Nigrini as well as the outstanding lighting by Japhy Weideman will not be forgotten at award time either.—-I can’t say much more in favor of this excellent new musical except that you should try to get tickets — if you can. It’s sold solid for months.

At the other end of the extreme is the feather-light “In Transit” at Circle in the Square. Billed as Broadway’s first acapella musical this really is a show all about the vocals — documenting the daily travails of a group of New Yorkers on trains, planes, and busses, it is a glorious advertisement for the good, bad, and ugly aspects of the NY MTA and a favorite moment included a radio-controlled rat carrying a slice of pizza along the track.
The eleven member cast is superb, and includes Justin Guarini, Telly Leung, James Snyder, and Margo Seibert. That’s really about it. I enjoyed the show quite a bit as an ex-New Yorker, but I can’t imagine anyone outside of New Yorkers finding much to care about in the paper-thin mini dramas. Instead, go for the acapella singing because it is exquisite (even if the tunes themselves are instantly forgettable).
The very clever set is designed by Donyale Werle and includes a stage length slip stage which allows for some great scene changes and motion. Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall has done an expert job keeping things hopping on the thrust stage, and it is all fun and entertaining without ever really drawing you in. Mostly it just made me wonder: “why”?
Look for heavily discounted tickets, and a short run – if you want to see it, see it now.


Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 – Holiday Inn – A Bronx Tale – Come From Away December 1, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.
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I’ve been remiss and have so many shows to review I am just going to lump them all into one post…

Come From Away (seen pre-Broadway in Toronto, arrives in NYC in February). Okay, I’ll say it here (having not yet seen Dear Evan Hanson) I predict that Come From Away is going to be this year’s Tony winner in many categories, including best Musical — featuring a superb 12-member cast that play both airplane passengers and crew, as well as local Canadians, this musical tells the story of the days starting with 9/11 and the week following when air traffic control closed airspace. Passengers diverted to a Canadian town are treated to some Canadian kindness as they feed them, entertain them, and take them into their homes to house them for the days before airspace is reopened. The musical score is superb, and the cast is outstanding — but what really works here is how riveting this is as theatre — as the (mostly American but also some international) passengers and townspeople discover together what a global tragedy has occurred in the United States. Its undeniably powerful, but also highly entertaining, and its going to win the Tony.

Natasha, Pierre¬†&¬†the Great Comet of 1812 (seen at the Imperial theatre, NYC). I go on record as stating that I loved this show more than Hamilton, there I said it. Telling the main love story from “War & Peace”, based on only 70 pages or so of that novel, this atmospheric musical absolutely rocks the Imperial Theatre with a superb Josh Groban in the Pierre role (he sings, plays piano, accordion, and other instruments), and he is excellent. The entire ensemble cast is remarkable in this show without a “stage” — rather, the entire theatre has been transformed into a Russian “cabaret” style performance space, and actors (no matter where you sit) perform in front of you, behind you, around you, and everywhere. Its expertly designed and lit, and one of the best directed musicals I have seen in ages. You will either love it (or some hated it) but you will not be able to deny that there is genius theatre stagecraft and performance on display here.

Holiday Inn, the musical (Roundabout Theatre Company, Studio 54, NYC). Lets call this one what it is, “White Christmas Lite” — there is beautiful scenic work, singing, dancing, and lots of tap in this family-friendly musical adaptation of the classic holiday movie musical. Some of the production numbers are outstanding. There isn’t anything earth shattering in this production, but you can’t go wrong if you are a lover of standard old-fashioned musical comedy — where the primary emphasis is on the song and dance. I loved it. It isn’t as streamlined as White Christmas was, but it is equally well performed, orchestrated, and executed. It was a welcome early holiday treat for me.

A Bronx Tale, the musical (Longacre Theatre, NYC). If there is a single recent musical that has disappointed me, its A Bronx Tale. With its sure-fire cast, score, direction, art-design and ready-made story (based on the movie) you would think that there would be the makings of a better overall musical than the one currently on display at the Longacre. Its all very well done, and the audience loved it – in fact, it had an instant standing ovation, which only Come From Away garnered more enthusiastic audience response) and yet I couldn’t help feeling that the entire show was paint-by-number. Granted I am not Italian, but the ending didn’t draw any type of emotional response from me (although the movie sure did) – but where the movie made getting to know these gangster families intimate and recognizable, everything here is broadly drawn and even sitting near to the stage didn’t feel all that intimate. Of course the (almost entirely NYC-resident) audience at my performance thought otherwise. Your mileage of course may vary.