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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
LOOKING BACK AT 2011

HITS AND MISSES
By MATT WINDMAN

  Rachel Griffiths and Stockard Channing in Other Desert Cities/ Ph: Joan Marcus

It was the year of Spider-Man and The Book of Mormon. Oh sure, there were plenty of other shows, most better than Spider-Man, but these two shows made a bigger impact than any other in recent memory, proving that Broadway can still be newsworthy.

After a record-breaking 183 preview performances, during which time aerialist Christopher Tierney broke four of his ribs after his harness snapped and director Julie Taymor was replaced by some hack from the circus, the $70 million Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark finally opened. Anyone who sat through an early preview – myself included – could see that the show was no longer an embarrassing train wreck. Just a kid-friendly stunt spectacular meant for a theme park. Frankly, I still don’t know what it means to “turn off the dark.”

As for The Book of Mormon, well, just try getting tickets to this thoroughly hilarious and heartfelt send-up of religion. In spite of the curse words, this is an upbeat, even sentimental musical that combines Rodgers & Hammerstein, powerhouse ballads and tap dancing. While there is not a single star in the cast and it plays at the relatively intimate Eugene O’Neill Theatre, it is the biggest Broadway hit since Wicked.

Hugh Jackman, in between shooting movies, returned to Broadway in a cheesy but thoroughly entertaining one-man show. Backed by a large orchestra and some back-up girls, Jackman paid tribute to Broadway and Hollywood musicals, Peter Allen, the Australian Aborigines and even auctioned off his sweaty undershirt for big bucks.

The musical revivals were quite excellent. Eric Schaeffer’s lavish revival of Sondheim’s masterful 1971 musical Follies, which transferred to Broadway for a limited run after a short run in Washington, D.C., became an unexpected hit. Daniel Radcliffe, now too old to attend Hogwarts, turned himself into a genuine musical comedy star in a smash revival of the Pulitzer-winning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Sutton Foster proved herself yet again to be a triple threat in a tap-happy production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.

A few months before Steven Spielberg’s War Horse arrived at the movies, the spectacular stage version of the World War I saga came to Lincoln Center, where it has been transfixing audiences with its tug-at-year-heart storytelling and life-size horse puppetry.

Great new American plays included David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities and Stephen Karam’s Sons of the Prophet. And, 25 years since it premiered, Larry Kramer’s seminal AIDS drama The Normal Heart finally hit Broadway, a revival that represented political theater at its most passionate and urgent capacities.

If you were looking for something completely different, you could check out Sleep No More, an immense, nonlinear and sensory-based theatrical experience combining narrative elements of Shakespeare with Hitchcockian noir, modern dance, masquerade and the theatricality of a haunted house. Wear comfortable shoes.

Of course, there were plenty of disasters, too. Consider Relatively Speaking, a truly dreadful triple-bill of comedy sketches by Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and Elaine May sporting a pretty strange cast including Marlo Thomas and Steve Guttenberg. The gothic thriller Dracula received an embarrassing Off-Broadway revival with veteran George Hearn as Van Helsing. The Tony Awards got kicked out of Radio City Music Hall to make way for Zarkana, a nonsensical Cirque du Soleil spectacle with a Wheel of Death and a baby with six arms in a jar. Baby, It’s You, the latest jukebox musical, made mincemeat of The Shirelles. Likewise, Harry Connick, Jr. and director Michael Mayer made mincemeat of the 1965 flop musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever with a new book even more ludicrous than the original. Godspell turned the cheery Jesus musical into a labored and excruciatingly painful parade of pop culture references.

Don’t ask me how, but pop composer/critics’ whipping boy Frank Wildhorn managed to get two musicals produced on Broadway – Wonderland and Bonnie & Clyde – both of which quickly crashed and burned. Bonnie & Clyde was his best score to date. But considering the quality of his prior shows, that’s hardly a compliment.

Yet the most depressing story of the year has to be the saga Lysistrata Jones, which demonstrates the case for not transferring just any Off-Broadway musical that scores strong reviews to the Great White Way. This unlikely, peppy combination of the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata with hot college cheerleaders and horny basketball players played like gangbusters in the basement of Judson Memorial Church. But on Broadway, you couldn’t overlook the show’s insubstantial and generic content.

 


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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. 

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