1 of 2
Jeff Christensen, Associated Press
The cast of the musical "In the Heights" performs during the Tony Awards in New York on June 15.

NEW YORK — Taking in a Broadway show is a top priority for many tourists who are lucky enough to go to New York City. Of course, for true theater nuts, going to see several Broadway shows is the goal.

Here's a look at the crop of musicals that opened in the spring:

"A Catered Affair": This review may be pointless as the show has now closed. And it's too bad ... I really liked it. It's about a family coping with the loss of their soldier son and trying to plan the wedding of their only, and sometimes overlooked, daughter.

Sure it wasn't the rip-roarin' Broadway musical that most tourists like when they're dropping more than a hundred bucks on a show. But it was very moving. It was warm, sad, endearing, enlightening and more ... all the things good theater should be.

Faith Prince was unbelievable. Any other year, if she hadn't been going up against powerhouse Patti LuPone, she would have easily walked away with the Tony. Tom Wopat and Harvey Fierstein were also fabulous. The show also had a wonderful message about life and how we live it, and love and who we choose to share it with.

One interesting thing: A couple of times there were extremely long pauses in dialogue. Moments of silence that lasted, easily, 30 seconds or more — an eternity in live theater. But they were so well done and so well utilized they were completely captivating.

Fun side note: I saw Bill Berloni there. He is the famous Broadway dog trainer who has trained Sandy in "Annie" and Bruiser in "Legally Blonde." He was nice and seemed pleased to be recognized.

"Xanadu": My husband forced me to watch the painful 1980s movie last year (he remembers when it originally came out with scary detail). He was right — I was glad I had seen it before seeing the musical, which is total, complete, campy fun. "Xanadu" is based on the roller-skating movie of the same name, which starred Olivia Newton-John as a muse sent to Venice Beach, of all places, to help inspire an artist to open a roller rink. I'm serious, that's what it's about.

The set looks like a Grecian garden of sorts, with a large mirror hanging overhead. The orchestra and some audience members sit on stage. (You might want to ask about those seats, as I've heard they're cheaper.)

The effects with the mirror are top-notch, and the whole atmosphere is fun. I was disappointed to walk into the Helen Hayes Theater and see the board announcing understudies. Kerry Butler?! I wanted to see her. I'm not sure if I was pouting that it wasn't Butler, which made the understudy less believable to me, or if she really wasn't that believable.

"Xanadu" has all the camp of the movie, but unlike the film, this musical actually means to be funny.

Embarrassing side note: I couldn't get my glow stick to work (they sell them ahead of time so you can party with the cast). I shook it, tried to snap the top off, tried to break the thing in two (like I used to do on Halloween), and none of it seemed to work. However, it was a handy purse-lighter for the rest of the weekend.

"In the Heights": I could tell walking in to the Richard Rodgers Theater that this was going to be a different show. The crowd seemed to have many more young folks, and it almost had the energy of a concert rather than a play — not because some vapid Hollywood starlet had been cast in the show, but because "Heights" is hip, fun and different.

With a magnificent set as a backdrop, the cast is phenomenal. And the second creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda opened his mouth, the energy (and chills) never stopped.

The show, about a "barrio" uptown at the end of the subway line and the folks who live there, is a mix of rap and salsa-esque music filled with driving beats and loads of brass. I really liked it, and I really liked the music, but there were times I wish the plot had a little more going on.

There are a few characters who only sing and talk about one thing: "I want to move out of this place." But while they lament, they're doing it with amazingly bright and belt-it-out voices.

Oh — the dancing is fabulous! And, it's pretty family friendly. There are a few minor swear words and sexual references, but they're quite fleeting. The story as a whole — about love, neighbors, family and home — is uplifting.

Economic side note: I first noticed at this show, and throughout the trip, that concession stands are now offering souvenir cups with lids and straws, meaning that you can now take your drinks (soda, wine, beer) into the theater with you. But, fair warning, the cups themselves cost $5.

"South Pacific": Some folks in the theater world hear this title, roll their eyes and mutter, "Ugh ... So Pathetic." From now on it will pain me when I hear that. It's clear to me that this is one of those musicals (like "Camelot" and "Fiddler on the Roof") that must be done well or it shouldn't be done at all. These shows run the risk of being long, boring and slow. But, when done well ... wow!

I absolutely loved this show. It's one of the highlights of my theatergoing career. The sets were exquisite. The costumes, divine. The singing, extraordinary. The acting, sublime.

Not to mention the glorious orchestra you've heard me talk about. Shortly after it began playing, the stage rolled back, revealing the entire orchestra pit. What a treat to actually see the gifted musicians playing that music. The audience applauded heartily as the orchestra proudly played, wearing dress clothes rather than the usual pit-fare of anything black. (The stage moved back in place when the action began.)

If you're lucky enough to be in New York any time soon, get your tickets — now!

Informative side note: If you're going to be waiting at the stage door for autographs, have your own Sharpie ready. (Hey, I thought they were all like Kristin Chenoweth, who had her own.) Otherwise you'll be asking to borrow some stranger's and looking, well ... a touch silly yet again (better than having to ask how to work a glow stick).

"The Little Mermaid": Disney knows how to put on a show. Doing a musical that partly takes place underwater must have been a massive undertaking for the creative team. But they were up to the challenge. Wonderful special effects had us under the sea, then suddenly sailing on the ocean blue, hiding below in murky waters, then dancing in a palace — it is amazing what they can do.

The actors glided around the stage on roller shoes, which helped the underwater feel.

Sierra Boggess was perfect as Ariel, and Sherie Rene Scott, one of my favorites, did a great job as Ursula, though her portrayal is different than from that of the movie. She's more comedic in her delivery, perhaps so as not to be too scary for the kids.

With most of the songs from the soundtrack and many extras, it's a cute show. Though, if you're in New York without your kids, I'd skip this show and see something else.

Helpful side note: Princess gowns are encouraged — on the kids, of course! I saw Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty among others as well as tiaras, scepters and "glass slippers." And if you come empty-handed, the fine Disney folks have a very large selection of merchandise you can buy.


E-mail: [email protected]