THEATER REVIEW: In Fun Home, The Days and Days that Make Up Our Lives

The Cast of Fun Home at the Forrest Theatre. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

A day or two ago, a savvy theater friend and I were debriefing about the Tony Awards. While we both agreed there was plenty to criticize, he made the sage point that the last three winners of Best Musical are an impressive study in the evolution of that form. The first of the them, now on stage at the Forrest Theatre, is Fun Home, with music by Jeanine Tesori, and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. (The others are, of course, Hamilton, and Dear Evan Hanson, and they can be expected in Philly in due course.)

At first glance, Fun Home might seem the most conventional of the three, dealing as it does with a favorite theme in American theater: the dysfunctional family from which a child arises—successful, if not unscathed—to tell about it. Within minutes, though, you’ll find there’s nothing routine about this altogether extraordinary musical that’s likely to turn you into an emotional puddle. Read more »

Q&A with Broadway Legend Chita Rivera

Please note that due to a scheduling conflict, Chita Rivera’s appearance at the Merriam Theatre has been cancelled.

Chita Rivera will appear at the Merriam Theatre on June 3. (Photo by Laura Marie Duncan)

Chita Rivera will appear at the Merriam Theatre on June 3. (Photo by Laura Marie Duncan)

Two Tony Awards (and eight additional nominations). Created the roles of Anita (in West Side Story), Velma Kelly (Chicago), and the Spider Woman (Kiss of the…), among many others. A career that began on Broadway in 1953, hit stardom a year or two later, and continues. Especially celebrated for her high-octane dancing—she’s been muse to choreographers including Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Michael Kidd, and Peter Gennaro—she’s also an actor and a singer.

Chita Rivera is, indeed, a theater legend, but any nerves I had about talking with by phone vanished quickly—she’s charming, funny, and forthright, all of which supports her reputation as a great colleague; she’s also known as an inspiring mentor to a new generation of performers. We talked about this, about what we’ll see when she appears with Seth Rudetsky, her experiences performing in Philadelphia… and (surprise!) how polite the locals are. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Hedwig, Both Lost and Found in Translation

Euan Morton is Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Forrest Theatre.

Cut to the chase: Hedwig and the Angry Inch is here at the Forrest for only a few days, it’s a terrific show, and you should go. If you’ve seen it before—but not this production or its current star, Euan Morton—see it again.

I was thrilled and also a little surprised, and not because I don’t love the show. Quite the contrary—I saw Hedwig twice in its original incarnation at the Jane Street Theatre in Greenwich Village, and both times were extraordinary. I adore the piece, a quirky, funny, but very profound two-character rock musical about a fragile East German-born transgender performer tenaciously trying to make her way. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: Cabaret is Back Again… and Edgier than Ever

The 2017 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre’s Cabaret. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Kander and Ebb’s musical Cabaret is now 50 years old. It’s never been out of the spotlight, but at times of political uncertainty, the show takes on special resonance. We’re deep in one of those times now—though in fact, the presidential election has nothing to do with this tour, which derives from a 2014 Broadway revival that was itself a revival of a landmark production by co-directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.

Part of Cabaret’s staying power is its theatrical permutability, a rare quality in a musical. Each new Hello, Dolly! looks pretty much like the last one—but every generation reinvents Cabaret along strikingly new lines. Harold Prince’s original defined the show as radical in 1966; six years later, Bob Fosse rebuilt it for his hit movie adaptation.  Read more »

THEATRE REVIEW: Old Meets New and East Meets West in The King and I

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Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana in The King and I at the Academy of Music.

Bartlett Sher, one of America’s busiest and most accomplished directors, has worked in every medium from straight plays to opera—but he’s won particular acclaim for two classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that he revived at Lincoln Center. Before The King and I (now onstage at the Academy of Music) came Sher’s revelatory South Pacific. What was notable from the start was Sher’s approach—first and foremost, to fundamentally trust the material.  He and his designers gave the show a beautiful frame; he also focused on the acting values inherent in both Hammerstein’s book and Rodgers music. Otherwise, Sher allowed the piece speak for itself, even when it creaked a little with age. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Adam Langdon and the Cast of Curious Incident of the Dog at the Kimmel Center. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Adam Langdon and the Cast of Curious Incident of the Dog at the Academy of Music. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

In moments of stress, Christopher, the 15-year-old, brilliant but troubled hero of The Curious Incident of the Dog, comforts himself with facts, numbers, and a search for congruity (his behaviour suggests Asperger’s syndrome, though it’s not referred to explicitly). So, let’s start there. This visually brilliant theatrical adaptation (by Simon Stephens, directed by Marianne Elliott) is in Philadelphia through March 5.  Good timing: it’s here at exactly the moment when Mark Haddon’s novel on which the play is based is the centerpiece for this year’s One Book, One Philadelphia event—an initiative which is celebrating its 15th anniversary.  This tour of Curious Incident follows hit runs on Broadway (799 performances), and originally in the U.K. at the National Theatre (it opened in August 2012, and continues to run at London’s Gielgud Theatre). Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: More is More in The Bodyguard

Deborah Cox and Company in The Bodyguard at the Academy of Music.

Deborah Cox and Company in The Bodyguard at the Academy of Music.

Posted at the Academy of Music: Guest Alert! Strobe lighting, loud gun effects and lasers will be used during the performance. But hey, wait—they forgot the holograms, bad ‘90s hair, and big gay stereotypes!

And that’s just the beginning. Read more »

THEATER REVIEW: In If/Then – Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between

Jackie Burns and the cast of If/Then, now at the Academy of Music.

Jackie Burns and the cast of If/Then, now at the Academy of Music.

Here’s How It Starts: In Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s If/Then, now playing at the Academy of Music, the heroine — Elizabeth, recently divorced and at a personal crossroads — imagines her life on two different paths. In one, she’s Beth, a city planner rising in the ranks. In the other, she’s Liz (Liz-beth – get it?), who puts her career on hold in pursuit of romance with Josh, a doctor currently serving in the army.

If only even one of these roads led to a better show. Read more »

Theater Review: A Pleasingly Bittersweet Sound of Music at the Academy of Music

Kerstin Anderson (Maria) and the children in The Sound of Music at the Academy of Music.

Kerstin Anderson (Maria) and the children in The Sound of Music at the Academy of Music.

It might surprise The Sound of Music‘s legions of adoring young fans to learn that the show originally got mixed reviews. Oh, it was a commercial hit — and it took home a number of Tonys, including one for Mary Martin, the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein muse who created Maria. But several prominent critics sniffed at the show’s sentimentality. “Hackneyed,” wrote Brooks Atkinson, while Walter Kerr deplored that the creative team “was moved to abandon snowflakes and substitute cornflakes.”

You don’t need me to tell you that the naysayers had little impact. In the ensuing 50-plus years, the show has only gained popularity, and I’m convinced that audiences love The Sound of Music in part because it’s kitsch. A decade ago, Judi Dench brought down the house at a London gala, when she played — wait for it — Liesl. The hugely popular midnight movie sing-along shows are an exercise in camp. NBC’s live holiday telecast a few years ago was best appreciated ironically (could anyone possibly mistake the tiny AstroTurf mat where Carrie Underwood performed the title song for an alp?).

So the tricky question for directors and producers who revive The Sound of Music is — how do you get people to take the show seriously, when it’s not even clear that’s what they want? Read more »

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