Another Bite of the Apple Part II — New Musicals

My recent trip to New York was more about new musicals than plays.  In my last post, I told you about the three new limited runs plays I saw.  Here are the four new Broadway musicals I caught:

Ben Platt, Will Roland and Mike Faist in “Dear Evan Hansen”.  Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Ben Platt, Will Roland and Mike Faist in “Dear Evan Hansen”.
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Dear Evan Hansen.  This shatteringly good musical revolves around an anxiety-ridden 17-year old boy and a lie that gets out of control with the help of social media.  This production opened on Broadway a few months ago but had already had an award winning run Off Broadway and, even before that, one of my favorite national theatre critics, Peter Marks in the Washington Post, wrote  “The heart-piercingly lovely new musical, receiving its world premiere at Arena Stage, is a trip to the exciting place that musical theater sometimes takes you, a destination of wholly unexpected impact, where characters burst into song and you, in spite of yourself, into tears.”  There are some sobering and thought-provoking themes in Dear Evan Hansen, but it is also funny and redemptive. The smart book was written by Steven Levenson (who also wrote the play If I Forget which I talked about in my previous post) with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (they wrote the lyrics for the movie “La La Land”).  It doesn’t hurt to go into this one knowing very little so all I will say is this show is compelling and different and not to be missed by anyone who wants to see the best of theatre right now.

"Come from Away".  phot:  Sara Krulwick/New York Times

scene from “Come from Away”

 

Come From Away.  I have written several times about this lovely musical about planes forced to land on 9/11 and the vignettes of the warmest possible welcome thousands of strangers from around the world received in Gander, Newfoundland.  Wife and husband Irene Sankoff and David Hein wrote this happy musical out of the wreckage of one of the saddest days we’ve known in our lifetimes.  I loved it when I first saw a 45 minute version at the NAMT Festival in 2013 and again at the world premiere in La Jolla in 2015.  It didn’t take prescience or dramaturgical skill to know this rare portrayal of kindness and empathy would be coming to Broadway, and now that it’s there it doesn’t disappoint.  Foot stomping shanty dancing mixed with earnest and lovely ballads tell the stories of the “plane people” and the Newfoundlanders and make you know and love these characters.  In his New York Times review, Ben Brantley called it a “big bearhug of a musical“.  So much fun!

Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein in “War Paint.”  Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein in “War Paint.”
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden in “War Paint.”  Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Christine Ebersole as Elizabeth Arden in “War Paint.”
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warpaint.  All I knew going in was this new musical is about the rivalry between two historical make-up mavens, Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole) and Helena Rubenstein (Patti LaPone).  That was enough for me to want to check it out, although I saw it while it was still in previews before an April 6 opening.  The two stars do a beautiful job (although Helena’s accent is sometimes so thick it impaired understanding).  The set and costumes are remarkable.  I will go out on a limb and predict the Tony award for best costumes simply has to go to Warpaint – so period perfect, so sumptuous, so beautiful.  According to Producer David Stone, the musical is “ about women and beauty and power and how women treat each other.”   The show  does touch on all that, but never fully explores many of the issues I saw as potentially fascinating; about New York in the first half of the twentieth century when women so rarely owned their own companies. But I did learn some interesting history about FDA labeling of beauty products, and those costumes were incredible.

Groundhog Day.  This musical is based on the 1993 Bill Murray movie

Andy Karl in "Groundhog Day".  photo: Joan Marcus

Andy Karl in “Groundhog Day”. photo: Joan Marcus

and Andy Karl does a great job in the lead. There are all kinds of musicals for all kinds of audiences.  I found this one only somewhat entertaining.  There is a particularly hilarious and fresh approach to a car chase in one number I won’t soon forget, but the story itself requires a lot of repetition and this show, for me, was not really enough to justify those Broadway prices.  It’s also still in previews so we’ll see how it goes after opening.

 

I so wish I could come to New York more often.  We do have great regional theatre throughout the country but there’s just something very special about theatre in New York.  (I’m thinking about coming back in the fall – I’m particularly interested in Junk by Ayad Akhtar and the new musical The Band’s Visit with book by Itamar Moses, music and lyrics by David Yazbeck and directed by David Cromer!)

 

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