Box-Seat

New York Shows I

It’s May in New York and we’re seeing shows! Hamilton? Nope. We weren’t lucky enough to get regular tickets nor win the daily lottery. We are not about to pony up the $800-$1000 needed to assuage the middlemen. But, friends who saw it back-when agree that Hamilton is shattering, a historical moment. “Pulitzer Prize,” one whispered to the other in the first ten minutes of Previews. Yup.

Perhaps the Hamilton genies will fly our way. In the interim, we are seeing some incredible shows. Tony nominees are making it clear why they were nominated. The quality of these New York shows are so consistently stunning: the leads, the supporting cast, the orchestra, the stand-ins.

Some things to consider if you find yourself in New York soon…

Rachel Maddow

It’s not often that you see an audience jump up in the middle of a show in a spontaneous ovation. But, that is exactly what happened when the – yes, Tony-nominated – lead Cynthia Erivo, aka Celie, sang an incredibly powerful I’m Here.

To that point, Erivo had taken us through Celie’s painful life with vulnerability, rage, love and a growing strength. Whether sneaking escape songs with her sister, Nettie, or beaten down to the ground by Mister, Erivo’s voice came out with power, beauty and depth. When Celie finds her resolve –

I believe I have inside of me
Everything that I need to live a bountiful life.
With all the love alive in me
I’ll stand as tall as the tallest tree.

– when she takes command of her lot and herself, the effect is overwhelming. We can’t help but jump up.

Erivo is joined by a fantastic cast that includes Danielle Brooks as Sofia, Isaiah Johnson as Mister and, in her last weekend in the show, the talented Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery.

The audience was particularly lively and appreciative throughout. “Helllll No!” “Get it, Girl!” Producer Oprah Winfrey would be proud. The Color Purple is up for four well-deserved Tony nominations.

 

•••

Shuffle Along

Last we were talking about Billy Porter, he was tearing up the stage with his Kinky Boots. Now, he is in an altogether different decade and wardrobe playing Aubrey Lyles, a playwright and performer who lived from 1884 to 1932. When Aubrey/Porter comes onstage to lay himself bare in Low Down Blues, we feel his pain and his release. It’s a showstopper.

Aubrey and Porter are in Shuffle Along, the story of a pioneering, black musical on Broadway in the 1920s. Porter is in fine, fine company with a cast that includes the astounding Audra Macdonald, booming baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell and Tony nominees Adrienne Warren and Brandon Victor Dixon.

The cast immediately impress with their beautifully layered singing and intricate tap, choreographed by Savion Glover. The historical significance of this musical retelling is clear from the start. How disturbing to learn that black performers were more palatable to white audiences if they were in burnt cork or greasepaint blackface like the white actors who played them.

The emotional resonance in Shuffle Along builds until the stories all start to come together in the second half. The voice of Audra Macdonald – who plays musical ingénue, Lottie Gee – sits exquisitely in songs like Memories of You.

Shuffle Along is the second-most Tony- lauded musical this season with 10 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Choreography, Best Costume Design and Best Book for originator George C. Wolfe.

•••

Finding Neverland

Don’t choose to live by the book.
Let’s live by the hook
.’

As it turns out, a most eclectic collection of people are looking for Neverland. There were parents and kids, young and old couples on dates, groups of burly men and girls night outers. Some were jiggling impatiently on the edge of their seats; others looked unsure. But, when  J.M. Barrie launched the show with If the World Turned Upside Down – Kevin Kern in our show, Alfie Boe in others – everyone was ready for magic.

Finding Neverland is the story of J.M. Barrie, a playwright who is under pressure to produce a new play: new, but not too new. “New does not necessarily mean different,” his Producer Charles Frohman (Marc Kudisch) tells him. “Think of it like — a new penny. It looks and feels the same as an old penny, right? It’s just — shinier.”

Through the course of the play, writer Barrie learns to release his inner pirate, take creative risks and encourage others to meet him in the imaginative world of Neverland. Helping Barrie in his artistic quest are widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies – played by the amazing Laura Michelle Kelly – and her young boys, particularly Peter.

In the face of family break-ups and tragedies, Director Diane Paulus brings in hope and magic with Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and fairy dust. With Harvey Weinstein at the helm, the sets, costumes and production values are shimmering.

Despite the adult themes, young kids in the audience were entranced by the lively numbers, the humour, the talented kids on stage and the fairytale effects. And we were all charmed by Jack and Jill, the adorable, fluffy dogs who play Porthos. These scene-stealing siblings – rescue dogs gone Broadway – played, cuddled and scurried on and off stage on cue.

•••

NYB

If you love the performing arts, a visit to Lincoln Centre is a must. It is home to The Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York City Ballet, The School of American Ballet, Julliard and Jazz at Lincoln Center. This is a place of artistic excellence and it is particularly exciting to see all of the young students here to watch their mentors and role models.

This visit, we were lucky to see the New York City Ballet performing a program of All Balanchine. George Balanchine, the renowned choreographer, was co-founder of both the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet.

1. The first number, Ballo Della Regina, was beautifully set and performed to the music of Giuseppe Verdi , excerpted from Don Carlo. The gorgeous pastel blue and purple lights and costumes highlighted the musicality and masterful technique of principals Tiler Peck, Gonzalo Garcia and the rest of the talented corps.

2. Kammermusik No. 2 was a modernist number set to the music of Paul Hindemith. Cameron Grant offered a commanding piano solo while Rebecca Krohn, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Abi Stafford and Amar Ramasar took us through intricate choreography, often requiring them to dance identical movements, one slightly after the other. A group of eight male dancers came together with strength, precision and grace.

3. The program ended with a sumptuous set of five Vienna Waltzes, set to the music of Johan Strauss II, Franz Lehar and Richard Strauss. The woodland backdrop here, designed by Rouben Ter-Arutunian – was ethereal. As the dancers dresses swirled through the waltzes and the scenery morphed cleverly from one setting to another – Austrian woods, Viennese ballrooms – the orchestra continued to play beautifully in concert. It was a beautiful evening.

inside ballet

Written by Elizabeth Newton
www.creatorsvancouver.com

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Elizabeth Newton

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