Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Regards to Broadway - Part I

Posted by Bruce Miller
No NYC trip is complete, or even conceivable for me, without spending time at the theatre. Two weeks ago, I arrived in the Big Apple on Wednesday morning and headed back to Richmond the following Monday. In between, I conducted two full days of auditions, participated in a couple meetings, took in some sights with my family, and saw seven shows.

I know. I’m a theatre fool.

Wednesday afternoon Phil and I got TKTS tickets to see Mary Stuart, a wonderful Broadway transfer from London’s Donmar Warehouse. Mary Stuart is a masterwork by 18th century German playwright Friedrich Schiller, sometimes referred to as “the German Shakespeare.” This production features a newly adapted script by Peter Oswald, and two magnificent performances by Janet McTeer (Mary Stuart) and Harriet Walter (Queen Elizabeth I). Mary Stuart is directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who also directed the polar opposite Broadway smash, Mamma Mia.

Phil and I both were tired when we saw Mary Stuart, having left our homes at 4 a.m.. Perhaps that is why we thought Act I was a little too “scholarly,” “talky,” “dry” … I don’t know the right word. We both thought Act II was riveting.

Wednesday night we went to bed early in anticipation of our Thursday auditions.

Thursday night the two of us got TKTS tickets to Ruined, the new Pulitzer Prize-winner from Lynn Nottage, author of Intimate Apparel. It was a beautiful production at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage 1 space. If you sit in certain seats in this venue, the leg room is excruciatingly cramped. I’m not exaggerating. I’m 6’ 1”, and when I sit bolt upright, my 16” femur, measuring from hip socket to patella, is about two inches longer than the space provided. I was in some pretty extensive pain in Act I, so I moved into some unsold seats in Act II, where I could put one knee to the right of the seat in front of me and one to the left. Then, literally 10 seconds before the lights went out, a tall woman who was apparently having similar difficulties scurried into the empty seat right next to me. So I watched all of Act II with my body facing front and both my legs pointed 45 degrees to the right. More excruciation.

Which is a shame. Nottage’s breathtaking play is about the life and death struggle encountered by women in the Congo. My cousin died in the Congo as a college-age missionary, so I was very interested in Nottage’s moving and compassionate account. It was hard to enjoy the play with shooting pains traveling up my legs and spine. If I ever go to this theatre again, I’m going to have to ask to sit in an adult row.

Friday my family arrived on the train. Phil, Hannah and I went to 9 to 5 while Curt and Terrie headed off to Mary Poppins. Again, we got all the tickets at a discount at the TKTS window.

The three of us who 9 to 5ed it LOVED the show. The stars and ensemble were wonderful—Hannah and I are particularly partial to Allison Janney. West Wing and all that. Joe Mantello directs the piece within an inch of its life. And you’d have to be a stuffed shirt not to love Dolly Parton’s music.

And yet 9 to 5 is closing this week or next, after significantly less than a year's run. It’s a shame that Broadway no longer has room for musicals like this. It was fast, fun, filled with character, nicely written and beautifully crafted by men and women who really know what they're doing. In reminded me of shows like Seesaw, How to Succeed…, Promises Promises—big brassy musicals that were professionally assembled and determined to entertain. Not great classics, to be sure, but real crowd-pleasers constructed by people at the top of their game. The audience that was there with us at 9 to 5 that night LOVED the show. It’s too bad it’s not going to be around after Labor Day for more folks to enjoy. It deserves a much longer run.

Tomorrow—Part II

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