By Barbara & Scott Siegel
It’s rather remarkable that in a season in which everyone knows that Hamilton is the odds-on favorite to sweep the Tony’s in most of the major creative categories, that there are so many other musicals choosing to open at the end of the season in order to compete for the limited ink, oxygen, and audience that goes to Broadway shows. In fact, we ran into one of the producers of Tuck Everlasting the other night and, while he acknowledged that he knew Hamilton was the big kahuna, he didn’t care. He felt he was backing a worthy Broadway show that should and would find its audience. And we suppose that given the impossibility of getting a ticket for Hamilton for less than $700, audiences will indeed have no choice but to find other shows to go to during the run-up to the Tony Awards.
So, let’s talk about some of these many and varied Broadway shows, but also touch upon the boom in Off-Broadway musicals that are, in fact, vying for other awards – Lortel, Obie, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle, to name just a few. But first The Great White Way, but before we begin, we remind you that we are only talking about musicals in this column (straight plays will be written about shortly in another column). And here we are, heading into the final couple of weeks before the Tony cut-off date, and we have the unusually dark and daring American Psycho, a musical coming courtesy of one of Broadway’s leading independent producers who is known for his remarkable good taste and commercial savvy, Jeffrey Richards. If he’s, once again, right about his choice of material (and his batting average is better than most), he could have a cult hit on his hands. The scuttlebutt is that while interest is high on this show, a lot of people are walking out at intermission, not because the quality is lacking, but that the subject matter and graphic storytelling are simply too much for them. Well, walkouts didn’t hurt Hand of God.
Another high expectation musical that’s opening later this month is Waitress starring Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller. While she’s not a house hold name (yet), she is a Broadway darling and the buzz on this show is substantial. This, and Shuffle Along (see below), could be the go-to shows for tourists who come to New York and can’t get into Hamilton.
Sleepers include Bright Star and Tuck Everlasting. The former has a knock out star performance by Carmen Cusack. In a season overstocked with strong performances by female musical theater stars, an oversight at awards time for this British sensation would be a true heartbreaker. The show itself is tuneful, sweet, and beautifully acted by the entire cast. While it doesn’t feel at all like something Steve Martin would write, the fact that he is one of its creators certainly helps the show to get attention, which can only help. As for Tuck Everlasting, that seems to be sneaking in under the radar with relatively little buzz but is only now, starting to get attention and a warm reaction from preview audiences. It, like Bright Star, could be the surprise hits of the Spring.
But Shuffle Along, with its pedigree of major stars like Audra MacDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Billy Porter – to name just a few – and having George C. Wolfe at the helm, is poised to be the biggest hit of the season after Hamilton, and – unless it’s a critical failure – and it would have to be as skewered at the level of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – to falter at the box office (which is doubtful, because this is a song and dance musical, powered by the brilliance of choreographer Savion Glover), it’s a safe bet that this show will have a long, commercially successful run.
She Loves Me, a revival at the Roundabout, is a delightful third try at making this perfect little musical a hit. Curiously, it has been critically lauded every time its come to Broadway (and the West End), and every time it fails to turn a profit on either side of the Pond. Happily, it’s protected at a subscription theater where Laura Benanti’s utterly charming performance can be seen and savored for the length of its run.
But Broadway isn’t the only place that musicals are popping up like spring flowers. Cagney is back, transferring from the York to the West Side Arts Theater. It features a performance by Robert Creighton that makes the entire enterprise worth the watching because this American musical character actor seems absolutely born to play Cagney; he looks like him, sounds like him, and even dances like him. We saw the show at the York and we’re seeing it again very shortly in its new location (and after reported changes), so we’re looking forward to a new and improved Off-Broadway musical.
Hardly capable of improvement is Death For Five Voices, produced by the ever-adventurous Prospect Theater Company. This Peter Mills/Cara Reichel musical offers a stunning score, absolutely terrific singing, especially by female star Manna Nichols, male star Nathan Gardner, and supporting players Ryan Bauer-Walsh and L.R. Davidson. If the book is a bit melodramatic, well, it’s based on a rather melodramatic true story. But from a purely theatrical standpoint, this little musical in a small theater at the Sheen Center, almost across the street from the Lynn Redgrave Theater, is a little jewel of a show. It has the virtue of imaginative lighting design by Susan M. Nicholson and pretty nifty costume design by Sidney Shannon, particularly considering the show’s shoestring budget. Death for Five Voices is closing later this week so skip all the big-ticket musicals and get to this while you can!
Other Off-Broadway musicals that have emerged during this run-up to the end of the season include the disappointing Southern Comfort (a rather meek show for such a powerful subject). But catch the effervescent Robber Bridegroom with a stirring buccaneer-like performance by Stephen Pasquale that carries the testosterone of this playful show to the utmost. On the distaff side, Leslie Kritzer, in a large but flamboyant supporting role, absolutely steals virtually every scene that she’s in. If she doesn’t finally get the critical and end-of-season award credit that she deserves for this hilariously rich performance, she will be the most ripped-off person in musical theater this season.
And, though we wrote about this early in the season, we went back to see Daddy Long Legs again at the Davenport Theater on W. 45th Street. Beautifully old-fashioned in the very best sense of the phrase, this sensitive, wonderfully crafted two-hander is as evocative and lovely as ever, still starring the luminous Megan McGinnis and her more recent co-star, her charming and funny real-life husband, Adam Halpin. We could not have enjoyed this diamond of a musical any more. If you haven’t seen it, you should; it is, frankly better than most of the musicals we’ve seen on Broadway this season.
In short, this is a pretty damn great season for musicals. And that’s even considering that Hamilton opened last year!