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With the fall theatre season well under way, it's hard not to notice the diversity that marks the newest crop of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Certainly there are a good many exceptional productions of the anticipated kind: Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession with Cherry Jones; Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino, and the magical two-star wallop of Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones in Driving Miss Daisy, to name a few.
Nevertheless, during the same timeframe, Broadway is balancing the alternative scales by welcoming the highly acclaimed/history-infused rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; a nostalgic homage concert, Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway; and, of course, The Pee-wee Herman Show, Paul Reubens’ redemptive return to the lovable comedic character (and loopy cronies) that catapulted him into the public eye in the late 1980s.
But rock and retro aren’t the only things percolating this season. There are also a couple excellent new productions out there courting audiences that do not necessarily fit the standard theatergoer profile.
FOR THE GUYS Even before Lombardi -- a deftly etched and wonderfully acted new bio play by Oscar winner Eric Simonson (based on When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss), tracking the legendary Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers -- began performances at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre, football fans and those who love them were reserving tickets for fall into winter. (I mean really, can you think of a better Christmas or Hanukkah gift for the gridiron addict in your life?)
But it’s the inspired casting -- led by Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) in the title role and Judith Light (Who’s the Boss?; Law & Order: SVU) -- that grounds the production in humanity. Also, keep an eye on the technical aspects of the show, including floor projections and footage from vintage football broadcasts -- extremely cool and well done.
BY THE GUYS Swan Lake -- pretty much the single classical ballet any non-ballet follower can identify with ease -- is a romance of the enchanted variety populated by delicately beautiful ballerinas in lavish tulle tutus. Historically. Usually. Until pioneer choreographer Matthew Bourne flexed his visionary muscles to create an intensely masculine version that left Broadway audiences -- including myself -- awestruck in 1999 when it picked up a trio of Tony awards. Bourne’s re-imagining has (finally!) returned to the Big Apple for a limited run at Off-Broadway’s New York City Center Mainstage, Tchaikovsky score intact.
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, with its strikingly masculine corps de ballet executing powerful -- often soaring -- dance movements, is unforgettable for all the right reasons: skill, élan, and haunting visual imagery: a breaking with tradition that cannot help but touch traditionalists and non-traditionalists at their aesthetic core.
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