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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
A LAST LOOK AT 2008

GOOD BYE TO ALL THAT
By MATT WOLF

  All My Sons cast/Ph: Joan Marcus

Who'd have thought that a bit of stage mechanics would allow for the single greatest frisson of the year? But when the stage floor of the Vivian Beaumont peeled back one late-spring matinee to reveal a ravishingly full orchestra laying fulsomely bare the melodious heart of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific , there honestly seemed no happier place on earth than in a theater. Except, perhaps, at a separate Broadway house downtown, where at around the same moment, the players in the pit of the St. James were putting the brassy, take-no-prisoners finishing touches on the overture to Gypsy, the other defining musical revival in a New York calendar year in which two Broadway greats came home once again.

These two achievements in themselves marked Broadway out as a destination worth savoring, and also worrying about, during a year that would come to a tumultuous close marked by the imminence in January of 13 closings - which included a new musical, 13, that boasted from Jason Robert Brown the liveliest, most immediately appealing original score heard in many a long season. When it puts its best foot forward - and the fresh-faced ensemble of 13 offered up in one stroke a new generation of gifted feet, with blessedly unspoiled personalities attached - Broadway remains a pretty special place. And when it doesn't? Well, consider Pal Joey, a missed opportunity that mistook gloom for grit, sacrificing in its search for a newly dark vision the charm without which its central character doesn't begin to command attention.

Matthew Risch's elevation from chorus boy to (miscast) leading man in the director Joe Mantello's Roundabout Theatre production at Studio 54 was one of many news stories throughout the year that kept the chatterati buzzing, another involving the revolving door of Bobby Goulds who were rotated into Neil Pepe's decent but hardly revelatory Broadway revival of Speed-the-Plow: a David Mamet play served up for keeps earlier in 2008 across the Atlantic at London's Old Vic. (Let's face it: will there ever be a Bobby Gould as unexpectedly moving - or as tall - as Jeff Goldblum, in his London stage debut?) But whereas the original musical in London sank to new depths of dullness and worse (Imagine This , anyone?), Broadway existed to remind showgoers of the innate power of a genre seen pushing the envelope in new directions courtesy the knockabout bravura of performance artist Stew's mainstream debut with Passing Strange - without question the new musical of the year - all the while encompassing the very real sweetness of In the Heights and even the fine, fleet Rob Ashford dances for the undercast, faintly distasteful Cry-Baby. Old style star charisma was on hand big time thanks to Liza Minnell , her hard-working Palace Theatre holiday entertainment as scintillating as her Royal Albert Hall London appearance of several years ago had been rather sad, while Shrek-the Musical married a gifted ensemble to the most cringe-making lyric encountered in many a long year, with the anthemic insistence to "let the freak flag fly." (Thanks, guys, I'll try to do my best to oblige.) Against the odds - how many plaintive green heroes, post-Wicked, can Broadway support at once? - Brian d'Arcy evinced real charm, while leading lady Sutton Foster displayed her most winning stage persona yet, having thankfully dropped over the years the slightly clenched-teethed enthusiasm that marked out her erstwhile Tony-winning turn in Thoroughly Modern Millie .

Putting London in its place elsewhere, New York actually

 


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SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


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