Once you’ve seen Bette Midler and Ben Platt in their 2017 Tony-winning roles—Hello, Dolly and Dear Evan Hansen, respectively—and sought out any of Broadway’s heavyweight hitters that picked up their Tony trophies in seasons past, say The Book of Mormon, 2011; Chicago, 1997; Kinky Boots, 2013; The Lion King, 1998; or Hamilton, 2016, it’s time to turn your attention to the new season, already in progress.
Janeane Garofalo and Lili Taylor in Marvin's Room. Photo by Joan Marcus.
With an opening date back on June 30th, Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room officially launched the 2017-2018 season. Infusing a life-death-estrangement family dynamic with humor—sometimes broad, sometimes delicate—McPherson’s 1990 play delves into the heart of anyone who has cared for or lost someone dear. Bringing the current production to life in its first Broadway run are Lili Taylor (Aunt Dan and Lemon; Six Feet Under), Janeane Garofolo (Inside Amy Schumer; 24) and Celia Weston (True West; Modern Family).
These three actresses, embodying incredibly disparate roles, are compelling to watch. Taylor projects a gentle fearlessness; Garofolo, in her Broadway debut, meets the difficult task of evolving from prickly to compassionate; while Weston, as a ditzy senior, is a joy to watch as she approaches her own physical ailments with arched eyebrows and the occasional deadpan one-liner.
Overall, Marvin’s Room is a haunting piece of theatre whose patina should come through even brighter by the end of its limited run (August 27th).
The other new show that made an early summer debut is Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan’s fascinating adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian drama that taps into our underlying fears and/or overriding realities. It doesn’t help that the cast—especially leading actors Tom Sturridge, Olivia Wilde and Reed Birney—serve up harrowingly realistic performances. As for the buzz about audience members fainting, hurling and whatnot, you can write it off as rumors gone wild. Still, if fake stage gore and Fear Factor concepts are personally problematic, you might want to skip rows A to G.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
New World Stages, a sprawling Off-Broadway venue capable of housing several shows simultaneously, had a noteworthy spike this summer when it imported two already popular Off-Broadway comedies.
Image by Carol Rosegg
The first to check in—on July 5th—was The Government Inspector, a zany Gogolian farce of exquisite proportions thanks to a company of divinely matched comic actors headed by Michael Urie and featuring Tony winner Michael McGrath as a provincial mayor with his hand glued to the panic button and Obie winner Mary Testa as his vanity-case Mrs. (through August 5th only, since Urie has to get ready for his next gig alongside Mercedes Ruehl: Second Stage’s Off-Broadway revival of Harvey Fierstein’s groundbreaking Torch Song Trilogy slated for September.)
On July 8th, Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic arrived. This scrappy and relentlessly skewed show offers audiences a parallel Hufflepuff (aka low house on the Hogwarts totem pole) spin on the blockbuster wizarding kit and caboodle that turned author J.K. Rowling into a billionaire. Inside jokes and a spunky young cast (mostly muggle-born) make this a must for groupies, addicts, the curious (in every sense of the word), and, of course, you know who.
I should also point out that the 2004 Tony-winning musical Avenue Q is a long-time New World resident, having relocated its puppets and people to its current home in 2009. And while the presence of puppets would tend to imply “bring the kids,” Avenue Q is a feast of adult themes and dilemmas, making it inappropriate for tiny tots with their eyes (and ears) all aglow. It is, however, one of the most savvy, funny and politically on-trend adult musicals to be found on or Off Broadway—and worth a second or third visit if it’s been a while.
DID YOU KNOW...
War Paint’s leading ladies—Broadway superstars Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole—are both two-time Tony winners: LuPone for Evita and Gypsy and Ebersole for 42nd Street and Grey Gardens.
Brendon Urie, singer/songwriter/musician/instrumentalist and Panic! At the Disco’s frontman, is currently playing Charlie Price (the guy who saves his family’s shoe factory by replacing sturdy Oxfords with sturdy stilettos for men) in Kinky Boots. But if you want to catch him strutting the Al Hirschfeld’s stage in boxers and shiny red thigh-highs, you’d better act fast. His limited run ends on August 6th.
Okieriete ‘Oak’ Onaodowan, the actor who originated the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in Hamilton, joined the cast of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 on July 3rd, becoming Josh Groban’s summer successor in the role of Pierre.