NEW YORK — This Broadway season is serving up a mix of new works, classic revivals and shows inspired by pop culture.
With the Tony Awards coming up on June 10, Deseret News contributor Leigh Gibson hit the Great White Way, taking in 10 new productions. Read her thoughts here on five new shows, and watch for her second round of reviews next week.
Where: August Wilson Theatre, 245 W. 52nd St.
“Mean Girls” is making fetch happen.
For those unfamiliar with the movie that inspired the hottest show on Broadway, that’s a good thing.
Tina Fey’s new Tony-nominated musical is a biting commentary on high school tribal culture and the problems popularity can bring. The hilarious new musical retains the heart and wit of the 2004 cult movie while adding in new cultural elements like social media (and the effect of bullying in an online world).
In “Mean Girls,” Cady Heron moves from Africa to the suburbs and becomes a deer in the headlights as she's thrust into the complicated world that is high school. She immediately befriends two social outcasts, who challenge her to spy on the untouchable Plastics, a trio of pink-clad popular girls who rule the school.
The show received 12 Tony nominations (tying with "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical" for the most nominations this year), and for good reason. With the book by Fey and music by her husband Jeff Richmond, “Mean Girls” does not disappoint. Not only does it have multiple standout performances and top-notch staging elements, but it also maintains the perfect blend of old one-liners movie fans will enjoy and new content that the musical’s fans will be repeating.
One welcomed difference from the film comes as the musical is narrated by the social outcasts, Janis and Damien (Barrett Wilbert Weed and Grey Henson). This proved to be a wise choice, as they can reveal more about the ins and outs of high school life, and paved the way for Henson's hilarious, Tony-nominated breakout performance.
As the ice queen of the Plastics, Regina George (played effortlessly by Taylor Louderman) commands attention. Louderman received a well-deserved Tony-nomination for her take on the queen bee, including her astoundingly powerful voice.
Her sidekicks, Gretchen Weiners and Karen Smith (played by Ashley Park and Kate Rockwell) bring more humanity to the show than any of the characters. Both deserved Tony nominations, but voters snubbed Rockwell, which was unfortunate since she steals the show every time she walks onstage.
However, despite the undeniably strong performances, the most captivating part of the show is neither a song nor an actor, but the set. Built with several perfectly clear LED screens, the set magically transports you from the high school cafeteria, to the mall and to the African savanna. It also serves as the perfect platform to show the gossip on social media.
Content advisory: "Mean Girls" contains some language and an offensive hand gesture.
“My Fair Lady”
Where: Lincoln Center Theater, 150 W. 65th St.
It doesn't seem logical, but Lincoln Center Theater’s new production of a 62-year-old musical is entirely just that — brand new, and more relevant today than ever.
"My Fair Lady's" well-known story (with roots in George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmallion") features phonetician Henry Higgins (played by "Downton Abbey's" Harry Hadden-Paton), who transforms a poor flower girl from Covent Garden into a duchess through bullying and rigorous pronunciation drills.
But in today's #MeToo era, this revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's “My Fair Lady” is all about girl power. Eliza is no wilting flower, as is evident by Lauren Ambrose's genuine, Tony-nominated performance. She is strong, determined and willing to stay up all night with marbles in her mouth because she wanted to change her economic circumstances and social stature.
Bartlett Sher’s fantastic direction unearthed plot points unnoticeable with past productions. For example, “I Could Have Danced All Night” seemed to be more about wanting to stay up all night learning more, rather than a love story like other stagings suggested.
And although the 10-time Tony-nominated revival feels fresh and new, it still retains the fantastic elements that made “My Fair Lady” a classic to begin with. The overture is one of the most beautiful ever written. The music of the 29-piece orchestra (a rare sight on Broadway) transports you back to the days when people actually had the patience to sit through an overture.
Norbert Leo Butz is delightful as Eliza’s drunkard father, Alfred P. Doolittle, and also received a well-deserved Tony nod for his comedic timing and superb acting — especially during his rousing “Get Me to the Church on Time."
The intricate set design painted the picture of the differentiation of the classes — from the dark and dreary Covent Garden to the immaculate Ascot races. The main set piece was a sight to behold — a full two-story house that rotated on a turntable as actors moved room to room.
Content advisory: "My Fair Lady" contains some foul language and men in drag.
“Once on This Island”
Where: Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St.
Michael Arden’s inspired revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 1990 “Once on This Island” is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
The imaginative staging — including a goat wandering the aisles, a sand-covered stage and a sandbagged pool of water — immediately transports the audience into the storm-ravaged French Antilles. Upon sitting down, audience members are greeted by actors in character conversing with them about everything from the weather to cellphone usage.
The musical is a classic story of forbidden love. A dark-skinned orphan girl is saved from a vicious Caribbean storm by a loving peasant couple, who, despite their age, decide to raise little Ti Moune. The girl grows up and falls in love with a pale-skinned aristocrat she nursed back to health after he suffered a car crash.
To save him, Ti Moune ultimately sacrificed her own life after she made a fateful deal with the Demon of Death, also known as Papa Ge (played by Tamyra Gray), who is downright scary as she prowls around Ti Moune, delighting in the girl’s heartache.
As Ti Moune, Hailey Kilgore is a delight. She is a fresh, wide-eyed and ambitious young talent. Her energetic dancing to the Caribbean beats highlighted the mesmerizing choreography found throughout the musical.
The story can sometimes be hard to follow, as much of the plot is sung through, and the acoustics in the bunker-like Circle in the Square Theatre didn’t help. Despite these setbacks, “Once on This Island” is a magical fairy tale that some are predicting will win the Tony for best revival of a musical.
Content advisory: "Once on This Island" is relatively family-friendly, other than the scariness of the Demon of Death.
“Escape to Margaritaville”
Where: Marquis Theatre, 210 W. 46thStreet
“Escape to Margaritaville” is exactly that — an escape.
It’s an escape from the traditional Broadway musical, with the audience often welcomed to sing along to the score of Jimmy Buffett favorites.
In fact, the baby boomers in the audience sang along so much it often became distracting. Regardless, the singing, the free-flowing margaritas, the ushers in Hawaiian shirts and ultimately Buffett's music all transported the audience to the islands, if only for a few hours.
“Escape to Margaritaville” uses Buffett’s deep catalog of music to tell an original story about an island paradise. Buffett’s hits largely remain intact, with just a few minor tweaks to help fit the storyline.
In this musical comedy getaway, Tully (Paul Alexander Nolan), is a proud bachelor bartender who beds the island vacationers and bids them farewell at the end of their trip. Everything changes, however, once he meets the right tourist (Alison Luff) — who actually makes him fall in love.
The cast is jam-packed with veteran Broadway talent, including Nolan (“Bright Star”) and Luff (“Les Miserables,” “Matilda”), who charmingly prove that opposites attract (and their beautiful voices definitely help in the matter).
If you’re a Parrothead (as Buffett’s fans are affectionately known) you’ll love this show. For others, the jokes will fall flat, as you wonder why one character is always looking for his “lost shaker of salt.” No matter who you are, you’ll smile at the staging of “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
It is an easy breezy good time, but you'll have to catch it sooner rather than later as the show is slated to close July 1, according to Playbill.
Content advisory: “Escape to Margaritaville” contains sexual themes and several off-color jokes.
Where: Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.
Some hate the idea of stunt casting.
But the economic reality is that New York City tourists are more eager to buy tickets when one of their favorite celebrities is starring in a Broadway show.
Not every celebrity does well. Many shows try it, and many (frankly) stumble.
But in “Waitress,” show runners have continued to replace the cast with uber-talented celebrities who can not only bring in fans with their stardom but also win them over with talent.
Enter Katharine McPhee.
McPhee, living the dream of her character in NBC’s “Smash” by starring on Broadway, follows a string of talented celebrities such as Jason Mraz and Sara Bareilles who have joined the “Waitress” cast. She first came into the spotlight by placing second to Taylor Hicks in season five of “American Idol,” followed by a series regular role on CBS’ recently canceled “Scorpion.”
In “Waitress,” McPhee plays the lead role of Jenna, a woman finding the courage to leave an abusive relationship and chase her dreams of entering a pie contest.Comment on this story
McPhee’s take on Jenna is earnest, heartfelt and warm as a slice of pie. The sincerity of her voice paired perfectly with the power of her belt in songwriter Bareilles’ score.
Now in its third year on Broadway, “Waitress” continues to bake up a delicious time at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with a heartwarming story and plenty of laughs.
McPhee recently extended her run through Aug. 19. Content advisory: “Waitress” contains mild language, sexual situations and references and depictions of love affairs that are not graphic in nature.