Albert and I just got back from a New York City theater vacation. Yes, we have amazing live theater in Los Angeles, both very large spectaculars and small intimate repertory. What don’t we have? Broadway. What people don’t understand, unless they travel to Manhattan, is that Broadway theaters are the perfect middle size. They’re just right. Oh, and then there’s the casts of multitalented triple threats working on those stages. So, for anyone interested in what to see, here’s my two cents.
The first show that we went to was the new musical Here Lies Love at The Public Theatre in the east village. I have been listening to the concept album by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim for years, and loving it, but never really knew the whole story of Imelda Marcos. This is a modern Eva Peron, and just as Evita featured groundbreaking staging and music, this show breaks new ground again. The entire story is told on a dance floor, much like the Studio 54 where Imelda partied her way into the lives of the world. So the music is disco and dance, and the story takes place on an ever-shifting stage around you. It is a really fun party and an emotional, moving history lesson at the same time. I loved this show and would recommend it to anyone who is still able to shake their moneymakers.
The next show we went to see was Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Belasco Theatre. I have seen two live productions of Hedwig and am a huge fan of the film, so I had high expectations for this first full Broadway production. It delivered in pure glitter-covered adrenaline. We saw Andrew Rannells of The New Normal and Girls fame, and he was absolutely fantastic in the transtastic role. I was never certain if Middle America would accept these characters as leading players in a Broadway musical, but they are almost immediately on board with sympathy and love for them. The show is funny, moving, and electric, and the reaction of the audience filled me with hope. Outsiders are actually being let in. If you are not familiar with Hedwig, rent the John Cameron Mitchell movie immediately.
The next show we caught was a preview of a revival of the classic On the Town. I’ll be honest, I am not usually a fan of old fashioned musical comedies, as I prefer downers like Les Miz, where everybody ends up dead. I’m also not a huge fan of ballet, and the idea for this show sprang from Jerome Robbins. Despite all of this, I thought this production was just about perfect. The sets, the costumes, and the cast, all dancing together to the amazing Leonard Bernstein score, are completely joyful. This is a show you could bring absolutely anybody to and have a great time. It’s interesting to me how every show since the Hair revival is trying to integrate the audience with the cast. The director, John Rando, does that here in the number “Lovely Town” to striking effect. This is going to be a tough show to beat at next year’s Tony Awards so get thee to New York, New York…it’s a helluva town!
The next show we went to was a preview of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This is an Olivier Award-winning play from London based on a best-selling novel that I was not familiar with. Before I give my review, let me say, I think that I would enjoy this novel as the narrator is reading some of it aloud, and the words are lovely.
I hated this play, and let me tell you why. The story is set up as a mystery, but it is solved in act one and then NOTHING happens in act two. Also, the show is about a student with an unnamed social disorder, some sort of autism, and while reading about this is one thing, watching over two hours of tantrums is unnerving. Much of the buzz about this show is the technological staging, which I found completely overblown. The last Olivier Award-winning play I went to see was War Horse, which I also hated. Yes, the horse puppets were fantastic, but the play was lame. In Curious Incident, the acting is great and the staging is unique, but I left with no new insights, other than I don’t care for anything from the London stage. It’s been all hacks since Shakespeare.
Speaking of Shakespeare, the last show we went to was Sleep No More. It is a sexy, moody, immersive experience that I highly recommend to anyone over 18, who is mobile enough to walk and do stairs for three hours. It is a completely unique take on Macbeth set in a dilapidated 1930’s hotel. The audience members wear Venetian masks and essentially play the ghosts, who are haunting the actors in the show. The cast is made up of phenomenal model/dancers who violently and elegantly perform the conceptual play all over the five-story space. The audience gets to follow whomever they want in the cast, sometimes running in the dark to catch them, doing everything from the dramatic to the mundane. I watched a king being suffocated, a nurse sleeping on a bed of rocks, and one sexy dancer take a rape-shower. The hotel is a set decorator and art director’s heaven, and Sleep No More is filled with plenty of time-tested crowd pleasers—sex and blood. Apparently they are working on a Los Angeles production of this show, and I would definitely check back in to this hotel in a heartbeat.