My Broadway binge

In my first two weeks here in New York, I had the unparalleled good fortune to see four Broadway musicals in the span of seven days. Given my theater background and absolute love of Broadway, I really couldn’t have asked for a better start to the major activities of my summer. A show every other day for a week? I’m a lucky girl.

But the interesting thing is that all four were remarkably different. People have asked me which was best, and while I certainly enjoyed some more than others, they are almost impossible to compare. So this experience has pressed upon me the amazing range and diversity that is to be found on Broadway and in the realm of musical theatre.

Here’s the rundown and my review:

First: Next to Normal, seen with my great aunt and uncle who came up from Providence. This show was positively amazing. The theater was quite small and intimate, which helped to draw me in and keep me engaged the entire show. As my aunt put it, it was “quite groundbreaking” in its content. Never before have I encountered a show that grappled with a serious issue (mental illness) and kept me guessing and drawn in by plot twists. It was such a different experience – that and the fact that the entire cast was six people. So there were no big company songs, no dance numbers. There was a rock score with some softer moments and a serious story beautifully brightened with moments of humor. The set was simplistic but eye-catching, and utilized so well by the director. Overall, it was a fabulous show that I wanted to keep listening to as soon as the curtain closed.

Second: A Little Night Music, seen with my aunt. The highlight of this experience was seeing Angela Lansbury on stage, given that she is a Broadway icon and possibly retiring soon. I was also excited to see Catherine Zeta-Jones because she is, obviously, quite famous and because it would be a different experience than seeing her on film. However, her character came across as pretty much the same one she always plays onscreen, and we were quite disappointed. She seemed fake and over-the-top, and I was honestly quite annoyed when she won the Tony later that day. The production overall lacked energy and vitality; the most energy came from the actress playing Anne, and she was rather annoying. Second to Angela was actually the understudy playing Fredrik, who was stately and convincing in the role. Part of my reaction is likely due to me not liking the show itself as much as others, but my aunt was also not thrilled by this production of it. The set and costumes were boring and dull, and the cast seemed uninspired.

Third: Memphis, seen with a roommate. After seeing the cast’s performance and the show’s big win at the Tonys, one of my roommates and I decided we must see this as soon as possible, so we snagged discounted tickets that very night. Now, our seats were not great (though they were cheap), but we still absolutely loved this show. Set in the 1950s and telling the tale of black music crossing over onto white radio, it had many elements of the classic American musical: a large cast, big company dance numbers, a love story and a semi-predictable plot. But everything about it was fabulous. The music gave me chills, the dialogue was heartfelt yet funny, the actors and voices were amazing. On the production side, the set, costumes and lights were all detailed and fun and colorful. This musical is fun and energetic, emotional and passionate, and I definitely think it deserved to win the 2010 Best Musical.

Fourth: Hair, seen with a friend. Going into this show, my knowledge of hair was somewhat limited. I knew it was rather free-form and kind of out there and that it dealt with Vietnam and hippies – but not much more. And after watching it I will readily say it’s not my favorite show because I like a bit more direction, but this was still an amazing experience. After two tries, my name was drawn for rush lottery tickets, and I paid $25 to sit in the box, practically in the stage. During the performance, actors were singing on a platform feet from me and occasionally stopping to talk to me, hand me a flier or sit fora moment in the seat beside me. And the end of the show, the audience was invited on stage for a dance party with the cast, and I hugged Diana DeGarmo. So it was incredible. And the production was also excellent. Although I found Ace a bit annoying, he, Diana and the rest of the leads have fantastic voices. The set, costumes and lights were very well done, the “Tribe” was clearly very close and having a great time – as was I, in a seat I never thought I’d get to enjoy.

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