Even when I’m on vacation, I’m still working for you, dear readers. On my whirlwind week in New York City, I went from theater to theater, and I’m happy to share my excitement and tell you that theater is alive and well in the Big Apple. Locally speaking, this is good news for the touring productions of these shows that are heading our way soon … and in years to come.
‘Streetcar Named Desire’
There is a magnificent feeling when you know something is going to be good, and then you experience it and it turns out to exceed all of your greatest expectations. This is especially true as movie and TV stars don’t always transform well from the TV screen to live eight-times-a-week performances on Broadway, but Blair Underwood does it brilliantly in an all-black production of the American classic “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Audiences quickly forget the all-black conceit as soon as his co-star Nicole Ari Parker comes onstage as Blanche and the two of them proceed to scratch and claw their way to two of the finest — and most moving — interpretations of these iconic roles in the history of American theater. It was so moving I couldn’t even talk as I left the theater.
In 2004, a musical that starred “Muppets for adults” was so original, so timely and so ready to throw political correctness into the cookie monster’s trash can that it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. This is particularly notable as this surprise hit left “Wicked” wondering what happened to the “man behind the curtain.” “Avenue Q” continues to work its magic in a smaller, more comfortable, closer-to-the-action theater off-Broadway and it has only sharpened its wit over time. Note: They may use all of the “Muppet” and “Sesame Street” ideas — including teaching us to count — but these are definitely not your children’s puppets — so leave the kids at home and go have some adult fun.
‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’
No one could have believed that decades ago when Matthew Broderick became a star as the naughty-but-nice Ferris Bueller that he would become Broadway’s leading song and dance man … but he has. Now in “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” he leads a brilliant ensemble cast, including Estelle Parsons, in a new 1920’s musical with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Yes — the songs are old (and timeless) but the story is new. Writer Joe DiPietro obviously studied Cole Porter’s classic “Anything Goes” and gives us a feel-good musical that feels like a revival, but could only have been written in the 21st century, and it’s fun from beginning to end.
The same very talented Joe DiPietro who gave us “Nice Work” won the Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical for “Memphis,” which is coming to Orlando this season. Named for the town in Tennessee, “Memphis” is an all-singing, all dancing musical that combines the multi-racial tensions of “West Side Story” with the early television dance craze of “Hairspray,” and the gritty ‘steppin to the bad side’ of “Dreamgirls.” Now that is a lot to fit into one very theatrical evening, but “Memphis” does it in award-winning style. Watch for it soon at the Bob Carr in downtown Orlando.
Phantom of the Opera
I admit to being one of Phantom’s biggest fans, and this biggest of all musicals — now the longest running (and most profitable musical of all time) — is still playing to new generations of sold-out crowds at the Majestic Theater in New York. I’ve seen it on Broadway, in touring productions and even in a specially approved high school version, and the simple truth is, there is nothing like seeing it with the huge cast and the huge sets and the magnificent voices on Broadway. I find it just as thrilling today as I did the first time I saw it on Broadway, and if you’ve never had that experience, then I urge you to make it a part of your next trip to NYC. It’s fitting that “Phantom” lives at the Majestic Theatre. The show is — and continues to be — majestic in every sense of the word.
The original “Evita,” performed on an empty stage, made a star of Patti Lupone while turning the 1940s First Lady of Argentina into an historical Cruella DeVille. At that time Ricky Martin was hitting the stage in a boy band, but today Ricky Martin is a superstar leading an extraordinarily talented cast in an updated production of “Evita” in which the story line is easier to follow, the sets are a constant phenomenon, the dancing brings the hustle of Buenos Aires to life, and the roles of Evita and Juan Peron are brilliantly acted and sung. I’m committing the ultimate sacrilege by telling Ms. Lupone that she is still “high-flying adored,” but today’s “Evita” is the “Evita” for the new millennium, and this column is the one in which I begin my campaign to beg Ron Legler to bring it to Orlando ASAP. And here’s my best idea yet … Let’s book this gorgeous new “Evita” to open our brand new Performing Arts Center. After all — in the theater — all things are possible!