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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews



  Denzel Washington and Stephen McKinley Henderson/ Ph: Joan Marcus

When you look at the Tony nominees, you realize it was a pretty darn good season. For best musical there was Fiorello!, Gypsy, Once Upon a Mattress, Take Me Along, The Sound of Music; for best play, A Raisin in the Sun, The Best Man, The Miracle Worker, The Tenth Man, Toys in the Attic.

The winners – The Miracle Worker and a tie between Fiorello! and The Sound of Music – were popular rather than artistic choices. Gypsy and A Raisin in the Sun were probably worthier selections.

Yes, that’s 1960 I’m writing about. But looking a half-century into the past simply confirms the feeling that the 2009-2010 Broadway season can best be described with one word – mediocrity.

Sure, there were some decent plays and some good performances – though not one good musical. Broadway brings in the (tourist) crowds and the (tourist) dollars. That’s good for the producers, at least those smart enough to figure out what Middle America wants. And if they make all that money maybe a few of them will decide once in a while to add a bit more quality to the recipe.

This season, the only Tony-nominated musical with an original score, Memphis, has a clichéd book, an adequate score and a couple of better-than-adequate Tony-nominated performances, by Chad Kimball as a white 1950s DJ and Montego Glover as his African-American girlfriend. In a better season, Memphis would not have been worthy of the final four.
Its competition? American Idiot is a stage version of one-and-a fraction rock albums. Idiot is at least sit-throughable, but its director, Michael Mayer, did it better with Spring Awakening.
Million Dollar Quartet has a score of familiar rock oldies and a superb performance by Levi Kreis, channeling Jerry Lee Lewis. But his three co-stars in the quartet provide only rough approximations of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.

Fela! has a winning performance by Sahr Ngaujah in the title role of the Nigerian composer, a rousing score and dynamic Bill T. Jones choreography, but a minimal book – it’s more like a concert of Fela’s music with CliffsNotes of his life – and it goes on too long. A taste of the music is enjoyable, but an entire meal is repetitious.

Of the non-nominees, The Addams Family gives new meaning to the word disaster. It destroys the estimable Nathan Lane, who tries and tries with total nobility and can’t bring life – or death – to Gomez. Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia is a character in search of an author, or a librettist, or a worthy song, or a musical. The fact that it’s a hit with its tourist audience says more about the Broadway stage than just about anything else.

Sondheim on Sondheim is a pleasing recreation of some of its 80-year-old genius’ greatest works. (I believe there were a couple of celebrations this season of his 80th year.) The show features the magnificent 82-year-old Barbara Cook, perhaps the best living interpreter of this composer’s – or any composer’s – songs. But the show’s a revue, not an original musical.The longer-lasting honor is renaming the newly renovated Henry Miller's Theater the Stephen Sondheim Theater.

In the world of drama and comedy, Red, John Logan’s bio-drama about the abstract artist Mark Rothko, has strong performances by the always-dependable Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his young assistant, but the play is more art history lesson than drama.
Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall is an at times moving play about a gay couple and the role religion plays in their relationship, but it’s also a bit like a Lifetime TV movie, and I wouldn’t expect that it will be remembered 50 years hence.

Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, about a photographer wounded in the Iraq war and her difficult return from the battlefield to Brooklyn, is probably the best of the Broadway lot, with moving portrayals by Laura Linney as the photographer and Brian d’Arcy James, Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone. It’s returning to Broadway in the fall, and it will be good to have it back, though it’s hard to see how it will make money.

The fourth nominee, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), Sarah Ruhl’s fascinating take on Victorian women and sexuality, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize – and deserved to win over last season’s Next to Normal, the Pulitzer board’s choice when it overruled the nominating jury and rejected all its recommendations. (Time Stands Still will be eligible next year.)

Of the other Broadway plays this season, perhaps only David Mamet’s take on Rac


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