April in the Apple

This is one of my occasional posts from New York, with an undertone of wistful wishing I could get here more often. There is so much to see. I’m on my way to Hartford Stage for Opening Night of Somewhere and can only see a couple of shows in New York first. Hard choices.  A few suggestions for things happening here:

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Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella photo by Teresa Wood

Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella in
The Velocity of Autumn
(Arena Stage pre-Broadway production)
photo by Teresa Wood

I don’t write reviews but that doesn’t mean I won’t recommend you see an extraordinary new play. The Velocity of Autumn by Eric Coble starring Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella is now in previews toward a scheduled Broadway opening April 21. This play is not just a funny, poignant and thought-provoking 90 minutes of beautifully crafted theatre, it is an important addition to the national dialogue on the difficult subjects of aging, autonomy and control over the questions about how and if and where our last years or days should be lived. As my friend and I were leaving the theatre, sharing our joint impression that the playwright must have interviewed our personal relatives in researching this play, we overheard a young woman (and the standing ovation audience was made up of all ages but trending to young) saying it made her want to call her grandmother right away. Whether you have a grandmother, or are one, this play is worth seeing and talking about.

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If/Then the new musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (writers of Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal) opened on Broadway recently to mixed reviews although virtually universal acclaim for its star Idina Menzel (of Wicked and Frozen fame). I saw it last night and agree most with reviewer Jesse Green who calls both the main character and the musical itself “intense, complicated, imperfect yet thrilling.” Towards the end of his review, he summarizes:

Every single thing that happens in If/Then is new. And perhaps it would have been better if the authors had found a way to begin untangling the plot instead of convoluting it further as Act Two proceeds. But these are quibbles, ungrateful ones at that. We keep clamoring for smart musicals that don’t just rehash some well-known property or lard it with songs we heard 30 years ago. At the same time we want stories that speak to something we feel now, whose developments we don’t anticipate ten or 120 minutes ahead of their arrival, or indeed before we enter the theater. If/Then surely answers all those needs. You absolutely never know what is going to happen, right up to the last, surprisingly moving beat. You appreciate its addressing the central dilemma of career vs. family in a very direct way and then, quietly but completely, undermining it in the end. That it does all this while also looking as beautiful, and moving as smoothly, as any modern show could, with superior performances from top to bottom from a gorgeously multi-everything cast, are just some of the signs that the director Michael Greif is offering his finest work to date.

Idina Menzel

Idina Menzel

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If I were going to be in New York the evening of April 28, here’s where I would go: The NAMT Songwriter Spotlight concert at 54 Below. The concert will highlight three songwriting teams who have been part of The National Alliance of New Musical’s Festival of New Musicals: Paul Gordon (Broadway-bound Jane Austen’s Emma and Analog and Vinyl, premiering this summer at Weston Playhouse), Ben Clark (The Circus in Winter, premiering this fall at Goodspeed Musicals with a book by Beth Turcotte and Hunter Foster), and Barbara Anselmi & Brian Hargrove (Broadway-bound It Shoulda Been You, recently seen at The Village Theatre and George Street Playhouse). Veteran Broadway performers Adam Halpin (Dogfight), Lisa Howard (South Pacific), Corey Mach (Hands on a Hardbody), Patti Murin (Lysistrata Jones), Mamie Parris (Wicked), Kate Rockwell (Rock of Ages), Andrew Samonsky (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and Sarah Stiles (Vanities) have joined the line-up. Sounds like a great evening and a portion of the proceeds will support NAMT. Tickets are now on sale at www.54below.com.

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I can wholeheartedly recommend a very funny play currently playing at the Women’s Project Theatre TMD-150dpi (NYC Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street) that I saw at a reading at last year’s Colorado New Play Summit in Denver.  The Most Deserving by Catherine Trieschmann is billed as “A Tart, Sharp Skewing of Small Town Cultural Wars.”   It delighted audiences at its subsequent world premiere at Denver Center Theatre Company and seems to be doing so now  in its current run at the Women’s Project.

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As announced on April 5 at the Humana Festival of New Plays, San Francisco playwright (and local treasure) Lauren Gunderson  won the $25,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, recognizing playwrights for shows that premiered professionally outside New York City during 2013 for her play I and You.  ($7,500 Citations also went to Martin Zimmerman for Seven Spots on the Sun and to Christopher Demos-Brown for Fear Up Harsh).  Also of interest,  Lauren’s  play Bauer is currently having its world premiere run at the San Francisco Playhouse (through April 19) and was recently announced on the 5A Season for September/October at the Off Broadway 59 E 59 Street Theatre here in New York.

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