NEW YORK — After reviewing five new Broadway shows last week, Deseret News contributor Leigh Gibson just managed to squeeze in time to review five more very different Tony-nominated shows before the Tony Awardsthis Sunday, June 10. But as different as these shows are, there did seem to be one overarching theme in these disparate productions: Each one managed to bring some kind of magic to the Great White Way.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”
Where: Lyric Theatre, 214 W. 43rd St.
The world of Harry Potter is alive and well in New York City.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is a welcome reunion with the characters from the blockbuster seven-book series. The two-part, five hour and 15 minute production is, understandably, magical. But although the magic was incredible, it felt normal — like the audience was peeking into Harry, Ron and Hermione’s world where transformations and spells are part of the everyday.
In this captivating story for both fans and nonfans of the "Harry Potter" canon, we see an older Harry Potter struggling to connect with his youngest son, Albus Severus Potter, while Albus struggles under the weight of a family legacy he never wanted.
In an ironic twist, Albus’ best friend is Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy.
The story is enough removed from original series that it stands on its own, and as a "Harry Potter" fan, it was a joy to reconnect with the characters I know and love. Fittingly, Hermione Granger — a stoic Noma Dumezweni — has ascended to the most powerful position in the wizarding world: Minister of Magic. And she’s happily married to the goofy Ron Weasley played hilariously by Paul Thornley. I smiled with delight seeing Ron parent their daughter, Rose.
The whole cast is superb and includes several principal actors from the original, Olivier Award-winning London production.
One of the production's unexpected surprises is its excellent music, largely composed by English singer/songwriter Imogen Heap, which served to help convey the character's curiosity as the onstage mystery unfolded. Additionally, the choreographed scene transitions swiftly moved the story along.
The production's five-hour running time might seem overwhelming on paper, but the experience is worth it. Both parts are intended to be seen in order on the same day (matinée and evening) or on two consecutive evenings. And trust me, you won’t want to leave your seat.
Content advisory: "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" includes some dark magical themes.
Where: Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.
“Carousel” is a piece of American history that everyone should see.
Overflowing with a lush score of tunes straight from the Great American Songbook such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “If I Loved You,” and “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” the new revival now playing at the Imperial Theatre is an experience you’ll never forget.
There’s a reason why in 1999, Time magazine named the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic the best musical of the 20th century. The 2018 revival picked up 11 Tony nominations, including best revival of a musical.
This refreshed production carefully handles a very important yet very controversial topic — physical abuse. “Carousel” tells the story of a tragic romance between Billy Bigelow, a troubled carnival barker and young factory girl Julie Jordan, who gives up everything for him.
As the scared, yet impossibly strong Julie Jordan, Tony-nominated Jessie Mueller conveys so much emotion by doing so little. I could feel her fear and trepidation every time her husband, Billy Bigelow, came near her. She is enchanting in everything she does.
As the dangerously flawed Billy Bigelow, Joshua Henry performs a masterpiece in “Soliloquy.” He is strong, yet vulnerable; loving, yet violent. His Tony-nominated performance is truly star-making.
The leads are backed by a fantastic cast. Opera diva Renee Fleming warmly brings the audience to tears as Nettie Fowler singing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Lindsay Mendez does more than provide comic relief — although she does that handily — as her character, Carrie Pipperidge, provides a sweet and stark counterpoint to the life (and husband) Julie has chosen.
This new production features Tony-nominated choreography from the New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck, and his delightful dance sequences help convey the emotion of this story of passion, loss and redemption.
But if none of those reasons move you to see "Carousel," go to hear the beautiful, sweeping score. Listening to the full 24-piece orchestra play the overture is worth the price of the ticket alone.
Content advisory: "Carousel" includes themes of domestic abuse and portrays a suicide.
“The Band’s Visit”
Where: Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.
I felt like I was interrupting an intimate moment at a recent production of “The Band’s Visit.”
Right before the audience's eyes, everyday life unfolded. At times, it seemed so quiet I felt like I could have heard a pin drop.
The production wasn't overproduced; in fact, "The Band's Visit" felt like nothing I’d ever experienced before in a Broadway theater. The show, which earned 11 Tony nominations, is extremely slow-moving — which I say as a compliment.
Based on a 2007 indie film of the same name, “The Band’s Visit” tells the story of an Egyptian police band who travels to Israel to play a concert. After a mix-up at the border, the band is sent to a remote village in the middle of the desert. With no bus until morning and no hotel in sight, these unlikely travelers are taken in by the locals.
In this single night, their lives become intertwined in the most unexpected ways.
As Dina, the owner of a local café, Katrina Lenk is enchanting. I was captivated by the beauty of her voice and the grace of her movements. John Cariani provided a standout performance as Itzik, an unemployed man struggling to connect with his wife as they raise a young baby.
But the true highlight of the show was the band itself. Several of the actors played their own instruments onstage, and the mini-concert at the end of the production left the audience begging for more.
Unlike most Broadway musicals, not every storyline in “The Band’s Visit” is wrapped up in a bow. There is no show-stopping dance number or dramatic plot twist. Instead, this is a simple story that celebrates the art of human connection.
“The Band’s Visit” can be, at times, slow and boring, and the musical is largely understated. Yet it's underlying message of connection and acceptance is so important today.
Content advisory: "The Band's Visit" contains some inappropriate language and sexual innuendo.
Where: St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.
“Frozen” is Disney magic.
The stage adaptation of the megahit movie musical is exactly what you’d expect, with a few changes that will keep audiences guessing.
The Oscar-winning, husband-and-wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez have written a dozen new songs to join the movie’s familiar numbers. Two songs, “Monster” and “Dangerous to Dream,” provide additional insight into Queen Elsa’s struggles in feeling like an outcast, while “True Love” serves as what Anderson-Lopez called “the emotional climax of Anna’s journey.”
But not all the new songs were welcome, or even needed. The creative team dedicated the entire second opening act to a random song featuring nearly naked villagers singing about the art of hygge (pronounced HOO-ga), a philosophy of surrounding yourself with warmth and coziness. The song felt out of place and inappropriate for their targeted audience.
To be fair, we didn't see anything improper — all the actors are wearing towels and fanning themselves with leaves. The song just felt unnecessary.
However, “Frozen” did have several bright spots.
For example, the stage adaptation shifts the focus to Anna, the bright-eyed girl who desperately wants to reconnect with her sister. Patti Murin is delightful in the role and was wrongfully robbed of a Tony nomination. Murin gleefully and innocently carries the show on her shoulders.
“Frozen” earned three Tony nominations, but none in the acting categories.
As Elsa, Caissie Levy is stunning. Her powerful-yet-vulnerable soprano voice makes the standout number “Let It Go” her own by adding in several new, beautiful riffs.
Olaf's ingenious puppetry made me forget that a human — in this case, Greg Hildreth — was behind his movements.
But perhaps the most delightful part of the production was seeing so many young princesses watching the show with bright eyes.
Content advisory: Broadway's "Frozen," like the film, contains some themes that could scare small children.
“SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical”
Where: Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway at 47th Street
One of the rumored front-runners for best musical at Sunday’s Tony Awards is about a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.
Yes, you read that correct.
“SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical” is sheer, imaginative fun. As expected, this isn’t a Pulitzer Prize-winning story — this show is basically one of the 30-minute Nickelodeon cartoons.
In this inventive new musical, SpongeBob Squarepants is trying to save Bikini Bottom from a looming volcanic eruption. Joined in his quest by his best friend, Patrick Star (played by Danny Skinner) and a squirrel from Texas, Sandy Cooper (Lilli Cheeks), the production tied with "Mean Girls" for the most Tony nods (12) this year.
As SpongeBob Squarepants, Ethan Slater deserves the Tony for best leading actor in a musical, as he effortlessly runs a 2.5-hour marathon as the hyper, friendly, hilarious hero. The role marks Slater’s Broadway debut, but his stage presence and command of the role made him seem like a Broadway veteran.
The production also earned nominations for choreography and costume design, both which were on display in a standout production number featuring Squidward Tentacles (played by Gavin Creel, who earned a supporting actor nomination). In “I’m Not a Loser,” the depressed squid tap dances through this flashy show-stopping number, with all four tentacles keeping pace.Comment on this story
Director Tina Landau accomplished the unimaginable by bringing a cartoon to life while retaining the simplicity of the two-dimensional cartoon. Scenic designer David Zinn reimagined everyday objects (like giant bouncy balls as volcanic eruptions, and cardboard boxes moving on a cart to represent the journey climbing the volcano) which brought a sense of cartoon to the stage.
But at its core, “SpongeBob Squarepants” is a story about friendship and community, a message all of us could use.
Content advisory: “SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical” is fun for the entire family, but producers recommend only those ages 5 and older.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly identified Billy Bigelow, the male lead character in "Carousel," as Billy Barker.