A life in the theater in 2012.

Last holiday season, I sat down with my parents and had The Talk about moving to New York. This holiday season, I flew back to the city on the day after Christmas. Because I live here now. What a crazy revelation.

Because I'm still that person who religiously keeps records of all the theater I'm lucky enough to attend, I'm more aware than ever that I see shows at a pace much too furious to review every performance. Super Awesome Broadway Ninjas is approaching its third anniversary, and I'd very much like to adopt a format that keeps the blog's content as relevant as possible while giving you something more interesting to read than dry commentary on shows I saw months ago. I just haven't figured out what that format is yet. Feel free to shoot me any suggestions in the comments section of this post!

The countless hours I've spent in the plush seats of a theater over the past year, more than ever, seem to boil down not to Best Shows of the Year, but to particular performances, details, relationships with the person sitting next to me, and experiences that stick in my memory long after the curtain goes down. In that spirit, I present some of my most memorable theatrical moments of 2012:

- Hearing the audience shout "Brava!" at the curtain call of Porgy and Bess. The classiest and only appropriate response to Audra McDonald's performance.

- Norbert Leo Butz's masterful work in How I Learned To Drive, which had my skin crawling for weeks.

- Seeing two of my favorite plays, Death of a Salesman and Angels in America, on stage for the first time.

- Ugly-crying straight through half the first act and the entire second act of Merrily We Roll Along. And I mean UGLY-crying.

- In the midst of following so many young composers, it was thrilling to see Benj Pasek and Justin Paul find the success they deserve in New York from two delightful shows - Dogfight off-Broadway and A Christmas Story on. Also seeing Sam Carner and Derek Gregor's song cycle, "Island Song," fully realized at Le Poisson Rouge.

- Catching Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of The Scottsboro Boys almost a year after being bowled over by Joshua Henry and the much-Tony-nominated, short-lived Broadway premiere.

- The stunning costume, set, and lighting design in The Heiress, with performances to match.

- Watching Peter and the Starcatcher make it to Broadway. Attending the first preview and hearing Black Stache's line change from "books, movies, off-Broadway plays!" at New York Theater Workshop to "books, movies, Broadway plays!" at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, with much applause from a knowing audience. From Christian Borle’s Tony win, to watching his castmates send him off with an autographed buoy at his last performance, to revisiting the show every few weeks and finding the same sense of magic that I first experienced downtown.

- The sheer joy exuded by the cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in particular the moments in the show that poke fun at the conventions of theater. Never has a balloon been used to suggest a creaky graveyard door with more glee.

- Sacrificing sleep and sanity for the Nth time to attend another edition of the "If It Only Runs A Minute" concert series at Joe's Pub on a school night (remember those?). The payoff? Claybourne Elder and Jeremy Jordan reuniting to sing "When I Drive" from one of our favorite shows from 2012, Bonnie and Clyde.

- Despite the mixed critical reaction to Into The Woods at the Delacorte Theatre, the experience of seeing one of my favorite Sondheim shows in Central Park was unforgettable.

- Laughing harder than I ever have in a theater at One Man Two Guvnors, partially because being pulled on stage like "Christine" is my worst nightmare.

- Seeing Annie, which served as Four-Year-Old Me's introduction to theater back in the day, on Broadway.

- The goosebump-inducing moment when the Newsies set moves forward during "Once and For All."

- Spending every second of the Assassins benefit concert at Roundabout Theatre Company pinching myself.

- Having a (surprising) blast at Ghost and then falling hard for it hard just as it was closing. A perfect summer love affair that culminated in winning front-row lottery seats at the closing performance.

- Venus in Fur, both times I saw it. For introducing me to the wonder that is Nina Arianda and for being one of the most fascinating, well-written plays I've ever seen.

- After a failed attempt at rush tickets the day before and a severe lack of sleep, ending up at Once for their final pre-Tony Awards performance.

- Thanks to our dedication to seeing favorite leading lady Laura Osnes in everything she does, attending shows at Fancy People venues such as Carnegie Hall (The Sound of Music), the Café Carlyle, and 54 Below.

- The true brilliance of Tony Shalhoub and Seth Numrich in Lincoln Center Theater's brilliant production of Golden Boy. ...brilliant.

CockTribesFallingTracee Chimo in Bad JewsAnnie Funke in If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, and Shuler Hensley in The Whale - off-Broadway finds whose staging, subject matter, and central performances shattered my conceptions of what actors on a stage are capable of.

A post about...turntables?

That's right. Turntables. They seem to be all the fad these days. While I'm no expert when it comes to scenic design, seeing an incredible volume of theater has inevitably begun to open my eyes to what works on stage and what doesn't, to what helps move the storytelling along in a production and what distracts from it.

Recently, I was fascinated by the use of turntables to stage the new Broadway play Grace. The entire set is built on two enormous, concentric platforms that encompass almost the entire floor of the stage; the narrow, outer turntable holds a door and a window, and the larger, inner turntable holds all the furniture and living space inside the characters' condo.

In the play, a couple played by Kate Arrington and Paul Rudd live in a condo next door to Michael Shannon's character. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt's genius lies in his decision to create only a single apartment on stage, so that Sara and Steve can be walking around their condo, and Sam can be sitting at his kitchen table, and all three actors are onstage at the same time, in their own condos, but the two sets of characters don't interact with each other. I've seen plays that use turntables to create smooth set changes between scenes, but during Grace, the platforms rotated throughout the production, in opposite directions, so slowly that I could only notice the movement if I stopped focusing on it for a few minutes and then looked back at a particular set piece.

The staging combined perfectly with the slow burn of the play's plot, which builds to a climactic finale that the audience has already seen (it's also the first scene in the show) by the time it comes around again in correct chronological order. A set in such slow, slow motion allows the audience the illusion of imagining themselves looking into the condo(s) from a variety of different viewpoints and angles, just as Craig Wright's text gives us grounds to step into each character's shoes and varying beliefs throughout the play. It also creates a parallel to the text itself; as characters who believe in God process experiences and situations that cause them to slip over to the side of the non-believers, and vice versa, the slow-moving set reinforces the shifting platforms of the characters themselves.

There's also a single fan hanging from the ceiling at the center of the stage, spinning lazily around, which adds to the circular motion and feeling of the scenes playing out onstage, several of which are performed forwards, then backwards, then forwards again.

In other plays - Manhattan Theatre Club's An Enemy of the People, designed by John Lee Beatty, and Playwrights Horizons' Detroit, designed by Louisa Thompson, come to mind - turntables are used for a more practical purpose. While scene changes can be made smoothly with the use of tracks and/or stealthy stagehands, I've found more often than not that turntables provide the least distracting way to transport the audience from one setting to the next without removing them completely from the context of the play, even with the use of blackouts. I will never forget seeing Leap of Faith, for, among other reasons, the incredibly distracting use of "ensemble members," i.e. stagehands in disguise, to erect the giant revival tent upstage while another scene took place downstage. (No offense intended to those hardworking stagehands, of course.) Turntables allow complete, ornate, and detailed sets to be permanently constructed and moved on- and off-stage with the least amount of commotion possible. What's not to like? If Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? contained an additional scene in Honey and Nick's living room, the current Broadway production, designed with an appropriate, enormous amount of clutter by Todd Rosenthal, would be well advised to utilize a turntable in order to maintain the carefully placed stacks of books, newspapers, and drinking glasses scattered around George and Martha's house. In my limited experience, there's no other way to achieve the same "lived-in" feel of a home on stage when props and set pieces are constantly on the move.

An Enemy of the People 
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Still other plays take place entirely in one room, or ask the audience to imagine a shift in location with the use of just a prop or two, and the scenic designer still manages to keep things interesting. Mr. Boritt's staging of If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet at Roundabout begins with a pile of furniture and possessions in the middle of the stage that's gradually disassembled by the characters and eventually ends up in a trough of water at the edge of the stage, mimicking the characters' emotional unraveling and disconnect from each other. Adam Rapp's Through the Yellow Hour, running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, is set in a post-apocalyptic New York City apartment constructed so convincingly by Andromache Chalfant that my friend and I debated whether the holes in the ceiling of the theater were real or not upon taking our seats. And the naturalistic, humble, middle-class feel of the home created by John C. Stark for Falling at the Minetta Lane Theatre, combined with the design of the space itself - orchestra seats come close to surrounding two sides of the cornered stage - made it easy to imagine that I was sitting on a couch on the other side of the family's living room, observing their daily struggles with raising an autistic son. While huge, flashy sets add to the glamour of going to the theater with the right show, a set that serves its story so purely that it fades into the background can be the greatest design success of all.

If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet 
Through The Yellow Hour 

Summertime, and the bloggin' is slow - Musicals

Happy Labor Day, readers! With the end of this weekend comes the unofficial close of summer 2012 and the beginning of fall on Broadway. What better time to close out our theatrical expeditions of the past month? Check out the musicals we've seen recently below (notes on Ghost's closing night can be found here), and head over to a separate post to read about our play ventures.

Into The Woods at the Public's Delacorte Theatre has been the talk of the town this summer, for more reasons than one. When all is said and done, the production's run is closing tonight, with the likelihood of a transfer to Broadway all but gone, and you know what? I'm okay with that. I feel glad to have seen the production twice, once as the show was still settling and once as it neared its conclusion, and reassure myself that, in my opinion, this was an excellent production. Everything hinges, I suppose, on whether you bought the concept that director Timothy Sheader first employed in the show's London production two years ago - using the frame of the Narrator as a young boy, run away to the forest from an argument with his father, to start the story, and inserting modern references via the rest of the fairy tale characters' costumes and props. We felt that this device worked very effectively and added yet another level to the already-complex tale. It's an incredible feat when a production of a show makes you consider the material in a different light than you had before, and I definitely left the Delacorte both evenings I saw the show pondering various parallels and connections that had only just unearthed themselves to me. Take-aways from this production include a gorgeous three-tiered set that must have grown right in the middle of Central Park, Sarah Stiles as Little Red Ridinghood (in what we thought was an absolutely charming breakout performance), Jessie Mueller as a truly heartfelt and golden-voiced Cinderella, Donna Murphy's sexualized portrayal of the Witch (I particularly loved her during the first act), and an Amy Adams who clearly grew an infinite amount into her role as the Baker's Wife between the first time we saw the show and the second. Kristine Zbornik as Jack's mother also left an impression on me.

And if I'm the only person on the face of the earth who loved Denis O'Hare as the Baker, so be it. I will defend his characterization and his relationship with Ms. Adams as the Baker's Wife to the end. I've always found the Baker's storyline to have the most depth to it, and for some reason, all of Mr. O'Hare's choices - from his pronunciations, to the way he told his Wife that she was not to accompany him into the woods, to his gravely-yet-pleasant singing voice - reminded me of my grandfather.

Triassic Parq has since closed at the Soho Playhouse, but you should keep an eye out for its cast recording, to be released in September. The tongue-in-cheek musical, narrated by "Morgan Freeman" (hilariously "portrayed" by Lee Seymour - check out his picture to see why so many quotation marks are necessary), tells the story of a tribe? pack? gaggle? of dinosaurs, on the brink of uncovering why some of them have numbers tattooed on their backs. (Hint: a scientific laboratory plays a part in the mystery.) The show had me laughing out loud more than once, and also had a surprising amount of heart buried underneath the sometimes crude comedy. Highlights included Alex Wyse as the Velociraptor of Innocence, Wade McCollum as the Velociraptor of Faith and the "Mama Dino," and Brandon Espinoza as the Mime-a-saurus. (The character is what it sounds like.)

- Most likely for the first and only time in our lives, Hillary and I saw Mamma Mia! at the ginormous Winter Garden Theatre. For the sake of brevity, the experience was exactly what we had imagined, complete with the Abba remix dance party at the end of the night. The new Broadway cast brought a great energy to the show, which now feels somewhat dated, especially Zak Resnick and Christy Altomare, who we've seen previously in other projects. Also, Aaron Lazar. In a neon yellow bedazzled disco bodysuit.

- The new rendition of Forbidden Broadway, subtitled Alive and Kicking!, is certainly alive and kicking at the 47th Street Theatre. What a fun, fun night. Although I hear that the show, which doesn't open until September 6, has been undergoing constant changes, it opened on the night I attended with "Patti LuPone" yelling, "Stop taking pictures!! Right now!! Who do you think you are?!" at a "bootlegger" coming down the center aisle, which segway-ed into a "Broadway Baby"-inspired version of "Bootleg Baby." (Speaking of which, if you've never seen LuPWNed! The Patti LuPone Audience Freakout Remix," NOW'S THE TIME.) Two major highlights for me were Marcus Stevens playing Matthew Broderick TO A T in a skewering of Nice Work If You Can Get It - "Nice song if I could sing it, but if I sing it, you'll cry" - and a skit about Once, featuring "Anne L. Nathan" and accordion, "Paul Whitty" and beard, an ultra-wide-eyed "Cristin Milioti," and a pretentiously melancholy "Steve Kazee."

- Seeing Will Chase as Matthew Broderick's vacation replacement in Nice Work If You Can Get It didn't change what I think of the show as a whole, but it was an absolute joy to hear him sing through the beautiful Gershwin score after being exposed to that side of his voice in Pipe Dream earlier this year. He and Kelli O'Hara were born to sing together, it seems. (So, Theatre Gods, let's make this happen again soon, please.) I think Mr. Broderick brought a lot of natural, Broderick-y comedy to the role of Jimmy Winter, where Mr. Chase played a more believable romantic lead. So my review ends at the conclusion that the show led by Mr. Chase felt like a completely different show than when it was led by Mr. Broderick. Both were enjoyable in different ways. Additionally, if the seasoned and terrific Michael McGrath ever decides to do a solo show, I would be there in a heartbeat.

- And finally, the concerts; or rather, just one concert - Frank and Friends, a monthly series held at Birdland and hosted by the man himself, Frank Wildhorn, as a showcase for his many, many works. Laura Osnes, Melissa Van Der Schyff, Stark Sands and Constantine Maroulis were on hand to sing some tunes and lend their classy presences to the evening, which felt appropriately Bonnie and Clyde-heavy. (Not that we were complaining.) We also got a preview of the upcoming Broadway-bound tour of Jekyll and Hyde when Mr. Maroulis closed the show with an impressive rendition of "This Is The Moment." Favorite performances included Ms. Osnes and Ms. Van Der Schyff singing "Candle In The Window" from The Civil War; Ms. Osnes and Mr. Maroulis doing a swing number, "Heat of the Night," from the upcoming Scott and Zelda; all four singers performing "Money To Burn," also from Scott and Zelda; and Ms. Osnes bowling the audience over with "When I Look At You" from The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Summertime, and the bloggin' is slow - Plays

Happy Labor Day, readers! With the end of this weekend comes the unofficial close of summer 2012 and the beginning of fall on Broadway. What better time to close out our theatrical expeditions of the past month? Check out the plays we've seen recently below, and head over to a separate post to read about our musical ventures. (Notes on Ghost's closing night can be found here.)

- For those of you who haven't seen Peter and the Starcatcher yet/since Christian Borle's departure, I shake my fist at you. While I truly do believe that the show itself is strong enough to stand on its own two feet, Matthew Saldivar is doing some great work over at the Brooks Atkinson. His choices as Black Stache are 100% different than Borle's - I wonder if Saldivar ever chose to watch Borle's performance in the show or not - and he is still hilarious. There wasn't a second where I found myself comparing the two actors. The pirate leader is now a bit more macho and cartoon-y, with a little Groucho Marx and Arnold Schwarzenegger thrown in for good measure. It really was fascinating to experience the show without its "star" for the first time, to hear different lines get louder laughs than they had in the past, and to see the audience fall into the world created by Rick Elice, Roger Rees, and Alex Timbers just as they have every time I've returned to the show.

- I feel compelled to mention Bullet for Adolf because of how much I disliked it. The play, running at New World Stages, was written by real-life friends Woody Harrelson and Frankie Hyman; according to the show's website, its characters are "based on real people, though the events depicted are fiction and the names have been changed." With that, the audience is inevitably supposed to wonder just how autobiographical the story of the play is, although I have to admit that I didn't care much one way or the other. There are some plays where something happens - great! - and some plays where people sit around in a room and talk - also great! In my opinion, Bullet for Adolf fell somewhere between the two, and as a result had absolutely no point whatsoever to make. I didn't identify or sympathize with any of the characters, I didn't find any of the jokes to be particularly funny, and while the inter-scene bursts of 80s music and news footage were the most entertaining parts of the afternoon for me, they were extremely superfluous, even if their purpose was to set the scene. Sorry, Woody...better luck next time.

- Not having known anything at all about Judy Garland's life prior to seeing End of the Rainbow, I'm not sure how I felt about the play itself. I found the writing to be pretty standard, and I'd be curious to know how Garland aficionados, or people who knew her, felt about the show's depiction of the legend. But the real reason to see this play, as I expected, was Tracie Bennett. As with her other British counterparts that I've seen on stage (Mark Rylance and Tom Edden come to mind), her performance was very technical as far as inhabiting and recreating Judy's physicality and mannerisms, but not at the expense of creating a character as well. I thought her most impressive moments were in the vulnerability she displayed in the transitions between being high and sober. What a sad story, and I think that's where my main reservation about the show lies - I wasn't sure if I was supposed to leave the theater feeling somber for a talented woman worn down by show biz, or electric at just having seen a recreation of her last major concert series, "The Talk of the Town" in London.

- Richard III, a production of the Mobile Shakespeare Unit at the Public Theater, was my first exposure to the play. As per usual for Shakespeare that I'm unfamiliar with, I lost track of several characters halfway through the ninety-minute condensed version of the play, although the cuts made to fit the story into an hour and a half may have contributed to that confusion. Other than that, we loved the theater-in-the-round concept, as well as the simple, modern staging and the cheat sheet (literally, a bed sheet) used to help the audience keep track of which royalty had been killed off.

- There are a million and one puns I could make about seeing Cock on a Sunday afternoon. Insert whichever you prefer here. I loved this piece of theater, otherwise known as The Cockfight Play. The idea of being contained in a tiny theater, in-the-round, the audience seated in bleacher-style seating, watching three characters peck at each other while trying to figure out their relationships, was absolutely captivating and REALLY well-written and acted. The premise: John is in a relationship with M (a guy), but when they decide to take a break, John falls in love with W (a gal). In the end, it's not who you love, but why you love, and Mike Bartlett's script, paired with honest and spirited performances from Cory Michael Smith, Jason Butler Harner and Amanda Quaid, did the topic justice.

- One Man, Two Guvnors closes tomorrow, and if you didn't see it, I'm truly sorry. After seeing it pre-Tonys, I knew I had to make a return visit before its run at the Music Box ended. I wasn't sure if I'd find the physical comedy and improv bits as funny the second time around, but to be quite honest, I think I laughed harder this time than I did in June. I read a quote once that talked about it being harder and more exhausting to maintain a comedy night after night at its highest level than it is a drama, and I totally believe that to be true, so extra kudos to the funniest cast on Broadway for making me sweat from laughing so hard. Besides the outrageous comedic performances from, among others, Tom Edden and Daniel Rigby, what impressed me the most this time around was the way leading man James Corden had the audience eating from the palm of his hand. Ben Brantley compared Mr. Corden's mischievous grin to "butter melting in a skillet over a low flame," a metaphor I'm in love with for its accuracy, and amazingly, his connection with the audience translated into the (short-lived) sad moments in the play, when *SPOILER* Stanley and Rachel each think the other has died. The crowd grew so quiet you could've heard a pin drop - until the farce was revealed, and the level of laughter rose up once again.

- Approximately eight years after the rest of the theatrical world, I finally saw War Horse, and spent the show with my jaw on the floor from the brilliant creation and use of puppetry in the production at Lincoln Center Theater. It certainly helped that my seat was in the front row, but watching the puppets and puppeteers at work, bringing Joey and his horse counterparts to life, was something else. I cannot conceive the hours of research and practice that must have gone into creating something so technical and so lifelike. That's pretty much how I felt about the production as a whole as well. Design-wise, it seemed very minimal, but was actually extremely detailed and technical...but because the tech was all executed in service of the story, the complexity evaporated, AS IT SHOULD. I also loved the poetry that wove its way into the staging - the way in which the "young Joey" puppet split apart and fell back as the "grown-up Joey" puppet came charging forward, and the images of red flowers growing on the scrim of the stage during one of the battle scenes, which literally symbolized seeping blood, but also invited reference to the poppies in John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Field."

Ghost's Final Performance: Or, Caissie Levy Belts Her Face Off

Hillary and I spent more than one night during Ghost's final week on Broadway attempting to win lottery tickets for the show, which we'd already seen twice. Our first time was early in the spring, for free, and while we completely understood why the show received mostly mixed-to-negative reviews, we had a really fun time (shocker: it felt like watching a chick flick!), and agreed afterwards that we'd enjoy going back if given the chance. Cut to a few weekends ago, when we lost the lottery for another show, finally ended up at Ghost for the second time, and had an absolute blast. From a standpoint of Good Theatre, I know I should have hated this show, but we couldn't help but find it wildly entertaining. What's not to like about a show that never tries to be anything more than an enjoyable night out, features actors who sing the crap out of their songs, and involves some truly mind-boggling illusions? (Ghost-Sam, played by the lovely and British Richard Fleeshman, literally walked right through a door on stage, and for the life of me, I still cannot figure out how it was done.)

What followed was the epitome of what can happen when anxieties are abandoned and fate is accepted; with each concurrent lotto loss, I'd grown more and more resigned to the fact that I wouldn't have the chance to see the show from up close again. By the time the lottery for the show's final performance last evening rolled around, we was well prepared to head off the mad dash to the box office after the lottery winners had been picked and purchase up a discounted ticket in the rear of the theater so that we'd at least be able to enjoy the show one last time. After all, lotto tickets for the final performance were being given away to the winners for free, so naturally upwards of 400 people showed up to try their luck.

Of course, Hillary's name was pulled, and we ended up sitting front row, dead center, on closing night. I think we're both still shaking like leaves.

Ghost's final performance was the fourth Broadway closing night I'd been privileged to attend, and the premise of this post is to try and convey what exactly that means and why it's so unique. In addition to Ghost, we both made crazy, crazy travel plans to attend the closing performance of Bonnie and Clyde last December, and we were also present for the last performance of Catch Me If You Can on Broadway just about a year ago. Combined, these shows ran for an average of 110 performances and won a single Tony Award. The longest played for almost six months (not considered anywhere close to a success unless the production was billed as a limited run from the beginning, which it was not), and the shortest for just two months.

The fourth closing night I attended was also my first. Next to Normal was a huge part of my theater-going life for over two years. Unlike the other shows discussed in this post, Next to Normal played to audiences for nearly 750 performances on Broadway and recouped its capitalization costs. It won several Tony Awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize and the hearts and minds of critics everywhere.
The morning after seeing Ghost's closing performance, I couldn't stop meditating on why I felt the need to see each of these four shows off as they concluded their journeys on the Great White Way - and more specifically, how Ghost fit into this special category. I don't think I'd ever make (and would definitely never win) the argument that Ghost is one of the best shows I've ever seen. Prior to closing night, I'd only seen it twice, which pales in comparison to my totals for Next to Normal, Catch Me If You Can, and Bonnie and Clyde. All of these shows built up core groups of fans, people who you'd get to recognize from their constant presence in the rush line or at lotto, who fell so hard for the show that they just couldn't stay away for long. For better or worse, I've been that fan before, but not for Ghost.

I returned to each of these shows because something about them grabbed me. With Ghost, it was the opening chords to "Suspend My Disbelief/I Had A Life," "With You," and "Rain/Hold On" that made something in my brain click and say, "Yes, I've seen this before, and I know exactly what's going to happen, what this song's going to sound like, but I cannot wait to see it again." Maybe it was the chemistry between the actors that made their onstage relationship so dynamic, so electric, so believable. Maybe it was the opportunity to watch characters go through devastating and complex developments, and to trace the parallels and consistencies among the steps in their onstage growth. Maybe it was simply because the show was fun. (Note: this also includes the "crying your eyes out," cathartic kind of "fun.")

I think the thing about closing nights is that there's no holding back. There's no need for the actors to conserve their emotions or save their voices for the next show, no need to dwell on the smallest of mistakes or the what-ifs of making a particular acting choice. (See: Caissie Levy's insane riffs during "Rain/Hold On." Literally insane.) Sure, there's the danger of being swept too far into a moment in the show that takes on extra poignance in the waning moments of a production's life - Sam's "See ya" as he bids farewell to Molly, Bonnie's "It's death for Bonnie and Clyde" poetry as she comforts Clyde before they drive off to their inevitable ends - but if that should happen, it's okay, just this once. There's the heartache of seeing an actor walk onstage with a few extra tears in his eyes, or watching two onstage lovers linger just a few moments longer, knowing that the memory of this creation and these relationships will remain, but soon take on a different dynamic, or watching an actress, like Da'Vine Joy Randolph, come on stage for her final curtain call bow in her Tony-nominated Broadway debut with tears in her eyes. There will be a surprise riff here and there (Bryce Pinkham definitely checked these off on closing night, sounding the best I'd ever heard him), maybe an extra comedic ad-lib, and a few special moments shared between cast members, only visible to the few audience members who have seen the show enough times to notice the smallest changes. There's an edge in the air that makes closing night definitively different from every other performance.

I also think that Ghost, just like Bonnie and Clyde and Catch Me, had a cast that was not only talented, but cared deeply about the work they were doing. Despite being slammed by the critics, dismissed by awards committees, and playing to houses that weren't always full, I never had anything but respect for the actors who put their souls on display every night because it was obvious that they believed in themselves when no one else did. There will always be the argument that talented cast members are "too good" for a show that lacks creative complexity, but I'm not sure I buy into that. I think that commitment is one of the most important qualities that any production can claim, and trust me when I say that each member of these productions committed completely to their characters and to the integrity and rules of their particular show. So to allow the cast to perform one final time for an audience that stands on the same page as them creates an electricity that is unique and unforgettable. It's a way of expressing a sense of gratitude for hours of enjoyment in the theater - not to mention that the inevitable presence of the show's creative team presents another opportunity to say thank you to the minds who invented the show in the first place.

I cannot describe waking up the morning after a closing show as anything else but weird. And yes, I realize that that in itself is weird, because I have not had a professional attachment to any of the shows I've talked about, or personal relationships with the people involved in them. It's just such a sense of finality. I've always been one for nostalgia, I suppose, and nothing feeds that monster like watching a show that is being performed for the last time, by these actors for the last time, on this stage for the last time, after months and months, and in many cases, years, were spent bringing this thing to life. I wonder what it will feel like when the day arrives that I'm working on a show that closes. I wonder if it hurts more if the show is forced to end before its time, or if it's had a long and respectable run. Since not every show can be your favorite, I wonder what it's like when you've had an up-and-down relationship with a show you've worked on from the beginning. I wonder if it's looked down upon to become emotionally invested in your own show, and to be crushed when it "fails." I wonder if it's possible to work on a show and NOT become invested in its success. I hope that I'll never become jaded enough to lose investment in the shows I'll work on one day, and truly don't believe I will; the cyclical nature of the theater industry has proven time and time again that, for every closed show I hold close to my heart, there's another show just around the corner that I'll cultivate a new love for, and the heartbreak of watching shows close is a necessary part of the cycle.

I can't remember the last time I attended a show in New York that didn't receive a standing ovation at the end, and I don't believe that every performance deserves one. The lack of a standing ovation shouldn't detract from the value of a performance; rather, the presence of one should add to its value. Regardless, I strongly believe that every show does deserve a standing ovation on its closing night, in a show of respect, solidarity, amazement, and appreciation, and I was so happy to be a part of that for the cast and crew of Ghost.

Ermahgerd! Broadway!

Please excuse our momentary absence...we were busy reveling in the fact that we live in New York now and can see theater at such a rate that makes it impossible to blog after each and every show. In that spirit, let's recap and travel back a few weeks to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where we caught Christian Borle's last performance as Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher. As soon as it was announced that he'd be departing the production in order to film the second season of Smash, we caved and picked up a pair of tickets. This show's been our jam for the past year and a half, and Mr. Borle's cornerstone performance has been a pleasure to watch. Everything in his final show was, naturally, building towards the trunk scene in the second act, and Christian managed to break not only the entire audience, but every. single. person on the stage as well. Rather impressive, we think. We also took a moment to appreciate the relationship that's developed between Black Stache and Smee, played by the terrific Kevin Del Aguila, because, well, what a pair. It was touching to see Mr. Borle's Tony acceptance speech shout-out to his partner in crime, especially because we believe their dynamic is one aspect of the show that's developed the most since its off-Broadway run.

The night ended on a particularly beautiful note, with speeches from co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, a poem from playwright Rick Elice, and the presentation of a signed, life-size life saver by the cast to Mr. Borle. In a symbolic passing-of-the-torch moment that totally made us cry, Christian even handed over his pirate jacket to his replacement, Matthew Saldivar. (BroadwayWorld had some great photo coverage of the coda, which can be found here.) We're dying to seeing Mr. Saldivar's take on the role, and I have no doubt that Peter and the Starcatcher will retain its special starstuff qualities. But I also think that, in the back of our minds, it'll be tough not to make even the tiniest of comparisons between the choices of any future Black Staches and the definitive creation that Mr. Borle has left behind.

We also said farewell (or "bon voyage," as the case may be) to Anything Goes, another favorite of ours that ended its run just a few days after our final trip on the S.S. American. It was wonderful to see that the production maintained its life and energy right up to the end, and I think we'll both hold onto much of its staging - the give-and-take of Kathleen Marshall's choreography between Hope and Billy in "De-Lovely," for instance, and of course the title tap number - as some of the most fun, thrilling moments that we'll remember from our theater-going lives.

We hadn't seen the show since Sutton Foster and most of her original company were still tapping away on the stage of the Stephen Sondheim every night, so there were plenty of new additions to the cast to enjoy. From the rear mezzanine, Bill English as Billy Crocker looked, sang, and acted like Colin Donnell 2.0, which is a sincere compliment because we loved Donnell in the role. English also seemed to mesh a bit better with Erin Mackey as Hope. Understudy and ensemble man Mark Ledbetter's performance as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh felt reminiscent of Adam Godley while maintaining his own unique comedic chops and sincerity in the role, as well as boasting a very pleasant voice. And Joel Grey's adorable schtick as Moonface Martin was again the key that really seemed to loosen up the audience. We truly hope we'll have the chance to see him on stage again soon.

Stephanie J. Block was a wonderful choice to replace Ms. Foster and did a nice job of making the role her own. We felt that she brought more grace to the role, whereas Foster brought more flair, even making Reno a bit of a klutz, and that worked very well. Although she sounded terrific on the classic Cole Porter score, I enjoyed Ms. Block's Reno best during her dialogue scenes. It seemed to us that Ms. Foster had really used Reno's songs to fully develop her character and her relationships with Crocker, Oakleigh, and Moonface - for instance, she brought just the right amount of goofiness to the character to make her connection with Lord Oakleigh inevitable, because they both possessed a certain "go-for-it-without-abandon" attitude of confidence in spite of self-consciousness - and that was the sole area where we found Ms. Block's performance to be lacking.

Nothing is more exciting to us than a team of young composers working on a new musical, so naturally we couldn't wait to see Dogfight at Second Stage Theatre. Another main source of motivation going into the production, and our initial reaction coming out, consisted of "LSKDFJSD LINDSAY MENDEZ." Without giving away too much about the show (although it is based on a movie, albeit one that was only released in a handful of theaters around the country when it came out in 1991), Mendez plays Rose, an awkward girl who's never been asked out on a date before Eddie (played by Derek Klena), a Marine who's leaving the next day for Vietnam, asks her to accompany him to a dance. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score is, for the most part, narrative in nature, and doesn't include many show-stopping moments for the company to show off their voices purely for the purpose of showing off - so if you didn't know that Ms. Mendez was a fierce beltress before, you'd never know after seeing Dogfight. This tendency doesn't prove detrimental to either Ms. Mendez or the show, because Rose's songs completely build, define, and reinforce her character, and Ms. Mendez gives a brilliantly understated performance throughout. The entire production felt so small and microcosm-like - although it takes place on the night before the JFK assassination, it doesn't expand too much on the themes of war, or cruelty between teenagers, or sexism, and while some may criticize the lack of contextualization, Dogfight stays a snapshot of one night in these characters' lives, and as a result includes some really, really sweet and tender moments.

As Eddie, Klena also gives an impressive performance. As we slowly realize that he's invited Rose to the dance with an ulterior motive, I wanted to hate his character, and yet he played the transition of realizing how much he was affecting her so well that I couldn't quite write him off entirely. In supporting roles, Annaleigh Ashford was scene-stealingly hilarious, as was Dierdre Friel as one particular character that we won't spoil for you.

Nice Work If You Can Get It proved to be quite a lot of light-hearted fun, if a bit forgettable. We caught the show the day before Kelli O'Hara took off to the Williamstown Theatre Festival for a few weeks, and it was an absolute blast to finally get to see her on stage. When it comes to Matthew Broderick, we'd established ahead of time that I enjoy his Matthew-Broderick-ness and Hillary does not. My one critical observation about his performance, which I found otherwise agreeable, was that he doesn't appear particularly fleet of foot next to Ms. O'Hara, who seems to float on a cloud when she glides across the stage. (On the other hand, who DOES look light on their feet next to Kelli O'Hara? Certainly not me.) The energy and pace of the show really picked up in act two, due in part to fantastically hilarious performances from Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath, both Tony winners for their roles in the show. On a special note, the show's costumes, designed by the recently deceased Martin Pakledinaz, were just gorgeous, especially Jennifer Laura Thompson's sheet-turned-dress in the bathtub number "Delishious."

As our love of all things Bonnie and Clyde continues to overwhelm our lives, we checked out Baby Case as part of the New York Musical Theater Festival since Melissa Van Der Schyff happened to be part of the cast. The show definitely had something going for it, but to us there seemed to be too much exposition on the story of Charles Lindbergh and his kidnapped son without giving an emotional connection to the characters. The show was narrated by Walter Winchell, which at times worked very well and at other times seemed a bit derivative. Despite our admitted bias, we thought that Ms. Van Der Schyff's song, entitled "Dirty Dishes," was one of the best in the show, along with "No, I Never Did," a Sondheim-ian number sung in the second act by Bruno Hauptmann, the convicted baby kidnapper and murderer. An interesting casting concept meant that Lindbergh and Hauptmann were played by the same actor (Will Reynolds, who we'd only known from his composing work and was vocally impressive); the two mens' wives were also played by the same actress.

And finally, we decided to escape the torrential rain of the last few days with a visit to Fela!, which we'd missed during its original Broadway run. We ended up sitting in the front row, knowing nothing about musician/activist Fela Kuti and petrified of audience participation, but fortunately for us no one was singled out in an Act One dance lesson, hence the reason we're still alive and writing this blog. The show was so different than anything else I've ever seen that I couldn't help but feel engaged and inspired by the story of Fela, and I walked away from the theater wanting to read about his life in more detail. It was loud and colorful and energetic and full of frenetic drums, horns, and dancing, dancing, dancing. The costumes were also awesome, particularly during a scene depicting Fela's travels through the underworld to speak to his deceased mother. Despite the overwhelming awesomeness of the Afrobeat music - our ears are still ringing - the show's most powerful moment came when Bill T. Jones' choreography stilled, and a line of people stood downstage while subtitles explained how Fela's commune was surrounded by 1,000 soldiers of the Nigerian dictatorship; his people were mutilated, and his mother, an early feminine activist herself, was thrown from a second story window, suffering fatal injuries that led to her death. I will fully confess that I wasn't sure whether the show would make me feel self-conscious about my admitted (and unintended) intellectual ignorance of African history - and plus, hello, two white girls here - but Fela! proved to be an experience not to be missed in every sense of the term.

Tonight was the night we'd been waiting for - Laura Osnes at the Cafe Carlyle.

As is probably incredibly obvious to anyone who has read this blog over the past year or so, we are absolutely in love with Laura Osnes. For Exhibit A, please see here. So naturally, when it was announced that she would be playing a two-week engagement at the legendary Cafe Carlyle, we cleared our not-so-busy schedules and picked a date. As luck would have it, the night we chose to go turned out to be the same night that our other favorite Broadway person (and these days, it seems like he's everyone's favorite Broadway person), Jeremy Jordan, would be joining her onstage. After spending weeks trying (and failing) to contain our excitement for what was sure to be a fantastic night, we must say that Ms. Osnes' set at the Carlyle exceeded our wildest hopes and expectations.

Disclaimer: For this review, we’ll try to recap the set list in order, but please forgive us if we go out of order or divert on a tangent because the entire night is like this one long stream of awesome, an hour and a half that felt like ten minutes, and we honestly don’t remember the exact order of the songs, just that they happened and we almost died listening to them. Please enjoy our hyperbole and enthusiastic gushing over the talent and the beauty that is Laura Osnes singing. We're biased, and proud of it.

Opening with "How 'Bout A Dance" from a little show we admittedly fell head-over-heels in love with, Bonnie and Clyde, was a choice that swept us off our feet. To see Ms. Osnes perform her (and our) favorite song from the show from five feet away was stunning. She then moved on to her first story of the evening, chronicling her nerves at the chance to perform in such a historic venue with “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music with a few cute lyric changes to fit the occasion. Again, seeing her perform a song from five feet away that we’d previously only seen from the nosebleed seats at Carnegie Hall (another night of elegance and class that we will never forget) was seriously awesome because we could actually see her facial expressions. Although the stage was filled with Ms. Osnes’s four terrific band members and a grand piano, the lack of space didn’t stop her from doing a little tap number in the middle of her next song, “Born to Entertain.” Yup. The dance break added a great spark to a narrative song about how she was, well, born to entertain, and reaffirmed our desire to see her in a show where she taps. We don’t think there’s a big tap number in Cinderella, but if this is supposed to be a modernized version, we don’t see any reason why she can’t bust a tap move. Please?

The next section of the evening revealed the not-so-shocking surprise that Ms. Osnes was more talented as a 12-year-old than we are now. After explaining that she grew up wanting nothing more than to sing and dance on Broadway, Ms. Osnes charmingly played a clip of her pre-teen self belting out the Barbra Streisand classic “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” As an aside, what pre-teen even attempts to sing Streisand? Insanely talented ones, apparently. Of course, she proceeded to sing along with herself for a few bars until the recording faded out and Ms. Osnes, now in her mid-twenties, was left belting one of the most definitive female musical theater songs like it was no big deal. She owned it. Step aside, Lea Michele.

Ms. Osnes’ next two songs, “‘Til There Was You,” from The Music Man and “A Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific, highlighted a dream role that she has yet to play and a dream role that she’s already taken on and made her own. Although nothing ever sounds terrible when Ms. Osnes is singing it, hearing “A Wonderful Guy” live sounded infinitely more impressive than the questionable-quality live recordings available on YouTube. While we absolutely love hearing Ms. Osnes sing contemporary theater, there’s something so classically beautiful that comes to life when she sings from the traditional Broadway canon. The clarity, emotion, and warmth in her voice during these songs is almost impossible to describe. It’s like she’s actually a Disney princess and animated birds will start flitting around her at any second and chirping along in harmony because they were drawn in by the pretty sound? That’s the best we can do. It’s an inadequate description, but it’s all we got.

And yet, Ms. Osnes can totally rock pop-rock covers with ease as well! We have an ongoing wish list of covers we’d die to hear her sing, and on Thursday night, covers of “Bluebird” (by one of our favorite singer-songwriters, Sara Bareilles) and “Sunrise” (by Norah Jones) blew us away with the simple yet gorgeous arrangements that showcased her voice. When it comes to playing favorites, all of Ms. Osnes’s performances are like children - how can we possible choose between them all? - but “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” originally by Randy Newman, may be our favorite from that night (although that’s such a fine distinction, because we loved every song). From reading reviews of her Carlyle performance on the interwebs, we knew she was going to sing another song by Mr. Newman, “When She Loved Me,” dedicated to the memory of her late mother. To be honest, when she first said she was going to be singing a Randy Newman song, we were mentally steeling ourselves for this beautiful tribute that was going to leave us in a puddle of tears on the floor. But while “When She Loved Me” made its appearance towards the end of the evening (and left the crowd audibly sniffling), “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” was an unexpected choice and a song we were unfamiliar with, and such a treat to hear.

Returning to a few more jazzy Broadway standards, Ms. Osnes dedicated Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are” to her husband after telling the most adorable story about how they understudied the leads in a regional production of Aladdin. This drew an expected and appropriate “AWWW” from the audience. A rendition of “Fever” switched up the mood and showed off Ms. Osnes’ sultry side, while “Femininity,” inspired by the realization that all of her band members, agents, and contacts at the Carlyle were men, displayed the sweet innocence that’s made her Broadway’s go-to ingénue.

As mentioned toward the beginning of this post, we deeply loved, and still deeply love, the short-lived Bonnie and Clyde. In fact, we’re jamming to it right now. An overheard discussion at a neighboring table (where Frank Wildhorn may or may not have been sitting) that included the words “The show should still be running” had us nodding in fierce agreement with people we didn’t even know. So we were pretty darn excited when it came time for Bonnie to reunite with her Clyde, and Ms. Osnes introduced Jeremy Jordan as that evening’s special guest. (Even more special was the fact that they are now both past TONY AWARD NOMINEES.) We’d eagerly expected them to sing a song from the show, and were thrilled that they chose “This Never Happened Before,” a song that was cut from the production before it came to Broadway (and in fact, before Mr. Jordan even joined the cast at Asolo Repertory Theatre) but made it onto the cast recording as a bonus track. Ms. Osnes then proposed that the pair sing one more tune together - as if anyone in the room would have opposed. Please. Although we also have a rather lengthy wish list of duets for two of our favorite Broadway voices, including “The Next Ten Minutes” from The Last Five Years (but really...just imagine), we were over the moon when the onstage couple used a discussion of their mutual sense of competition, particularly when it comes to playing games on their phones (Ms. Osnes is better at Scramble with Friends, while Mr. Jordan is better at Words With Friends), to springboard into “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” from Annie Get Your Gun. Verses included debates about who could sing higher, softer, faster, and sweeter. We’re gonna call it a tie. It was the greatest thing ever. The most adorable thing ever. And one of the loveliest moments of the entire night from two talented individuals.

And then, it was almost over. (Pause for dramatic effect.) Ms. Osnes’ final two songs included a tribute to Mr. Wildhorn with “Must Be My Lucky Day” and an Irving Berlin medley featuring “Shaking the Blues Away” and “Blue Skies” before warm, incessant applause brought her back to the stage with an encore of “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” And when she ended the night wishing us all sweet dreams, we couldn’t help but think that the sweetest dream of all was the one we’d just had come true.

Good times and bum times, we've seen them all, and, my dear, we're still here.

GREETINGS once again, dear readers. We're going to completely skip over the fact that it's been three months since our last post, during which time we've graduated from The College and moved to The City and attended The Theatre a lot. To compensate, we're going to play catch-up with a witty title quote from Follies to assure you that yes, we are, in fact, still here and committed as ever to our blogging ventures, and to provide you a few highlights from our theater-going lives. As such, let's rewind to April...

Now. Here. This. was awesome because, well, the original [title of show] team reunited? Come on. The whole mantra of "it is now, we are here, let's do this" felt particularly relevant to Hillary and I as we soaked up the last few weeks of being college students while anticipating everything that would happen post-graduation. The songs and stories that made up the show were alternately hilarious and tear-inducing, in typical fashion for the work that Hunter, Susan, Heidi, and Jeff seem to produce.

Pipe Dream was our second venture to this year's Encores series at New York City Center. Highlights included our girl Laura Osnes showing off some comedic chops and hearing Will Chase sing a gorgeous, if at times random, Rodgers and Hammerstein score. (By random, we mean "songs about ordering Christmas cards in July" and "songs where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs suddenly show up on stage.") Plus, a musical that chronicles the escapades of a marine biologist and a spunky prostitute who moves into a large, abandoned pipe on a beach is an event we'll likely never witness again.

Leap of Faith...was a show...that we saw. In its entirety. Not everyone can say that, as it closed after 19 performances at the St. James. We enjoyed the lovely Jessica Phillips' song, "Long Past Dreamin'," at the top of act two. There was also the disco ball jacket worn by Raul Esparza. In other words, sorry, Alan Menken, but while you have many crowning achievements that we adore, this wasn't one of them.

Confession: iTunes informs me that I've listened to "Here Right Now"from Ghost 23 times. We went into the show with expectations ranging from low to apathetic, but came out feeling like we'd spent a the evening watching a fun 90's chick flick. This may be partially because the musical mirrors the movie to a T, right down to the opening title credit projections, but since when should a love of corny movies be a source of embarrassment? We definitely plan on returning to the show for its incredible special effects and illusions and a few really catchy songs, some with better lyrics ("I'm outta here / I'm off to the Bahamas / I'm outta here / you'd better pack my pink pajamas") than others ("Just think about Sam and the times you've shared / open up that dam / try not to be scared"), sung with passion by the terrific Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman. My thought process during "I'm Outta Here," the big act two show-stopper sung by Da'Vine Joy Randolph as the Whoopi Goldberg character, was something along the lines of: "I have no idea why she's singing an entire song about money that's not even hers?! But she's killing it and this song is fabulous?!" (The song is now my jam.) There are some real clunkers (see: the Angry Subway Ghost rap... Graffiti Pete from In The Heights called and wants his persona back), but Ghost never tried to be anything more than an entertaining night out, and for that we loved it.

The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall was a dream. Literally, I think we dreamed that we were actually in attendance at the one-night-only gala starring Laura Osnes as Maria von Trapp. What?! Bucket list: CHECK. Highlights include Ms. Osnes as yodeler, Ms. Osnes as guitarist, Ms. Osnes as professional nanny, Ms. Osnes as choir conductor, Ms. Osnes as music teacher, Ms. Osnes shouting "I've been given permission to SING!" and Ms. Osnes as Queen of Everything.

Other Desert Cities was a strong performance of a strong play, but it didn't smack us over the head and make us think about it weeks later. We were moved but not changed. As the protagonist, Elizabeth Marvel's performance was excellent, and Judith Light was hilarious and quirky as the recovering (or not?) alcoholic aunt, although we felt that her part was fairly small. We also loved being back in the Booth Theater for the first time since our beloved Next to Normal - the renovations are absolutely beautiful.

Our love for Peter and the Starcatcher in its new Broadway home at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre has reached astronomical levels. Without re-reviewing the show since we wrote about it at NYTW, we'll just say that the gang of pirates, orphans, starcatchers, and islanders haven't lost a bit of magic in the transfer. Experiencing the audience's collective reactions to certain moments - when Molly flies; when Black Stache experiences an unfortunate, painful, and, shall we say, fateful, loss in act two - is absolutely priceless and still magical, touching, and sidesplittingly funny after coughcough viewings of the play. We'll be sad to see Tony Award Winner (!!!) Christian Borle depart the show next weekend, but haven't talked to a single person who hasn't fallen in love with the show as a whole, and are confident that its much-deserved success will continue.

A year after our abs finally stopped hurting from laughing so much, I was fortunate to attend The Book of Mormon once again to see Josh Gad's final performance with the show, which is still hilarious and solidly performed all around. Andrew Rannells, who has also since departed the production, still sounded phenomenal right up to the end of his Tony-nominated run, as did the adorable Nikki M. James. There weren't too many chances for things to get sappy and sad until the end, but it was unexpectedly touching to see the original cast together for the last time. Following Elder Cunningham's final reference to Nabulungi as "Nikki M. James," which brought down the house and nearly had Ms. James doubled over in laughter and/or tears, Mr. Gad was visibly moved by the show's final scene.

One Man, Two Guvnors has no social commentary to offer, no witty outlooks on or solutions to the problems in our world, and is a HELL of a lot of fun. The British farce is structured after a typical night of entertainment in an English seaside town, with a mixture of vaudeville, skits, slapstick, and music, and once the audience realized that a night of silliness was at hand, no one stopped laughing for the play's entire duration. The show's on-stage band, reminiscent of the Beatles, is terrific, although I think you could remove them entirely and it wouldn't change the show one bit. Tony winner James Corden plays a dim bulb - One Man - who ends up with two bosses - Two Guvnors - and must continually float between the two without letting one employer know about the other. In the process, he has a full-on wrestling match with himself, smacks himself in the face with a garbage can lid, and eats a LOT of food that he's supposed to be preparing for his guvnors' dinners. Tom Edden as a decrepit but determined geriatric and first-time waiter had the house in stitches as well.

Silence! The Musical did a fine job of highlighting the most outrageous moments from the classic 1991 film. In a nutshell, it was a ton of fun at a tiny theater in the East Village.

When Nina Arianda won her Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play, Hillary and I screamed like banshees at the TV for about 7 seconds. Needless to say, we are obsessed with Venus in Fur. Fantastic writing, fantastic acting, fantastic staging. What mesmerizing and brilliant performances from both Ms. Arianda and her co-star, the lovely and British Hugh Dancy. We're crushed that its run at the Lyceum is over and sincerely hope you saw it before it closed.

Harvey, the first show of the 2012-2013 Broadway season over at Roundabout, is a good, light, fluffy, family show for the summer. Jim Carnahan couldn't have cast anyone to play the main character, Elwood P. Dowd, more sincerely than Jim Parsons does. In summary: Elwood's best friend is an imaginary rabbit named Harvey. Vita, Elwood's sister, takes him to the local sanatorium because Elwood's innocent antics are scaring away her social circle. The catch? Elwood is so charming that the doctors think Vita is the one who needs to be committed. Hilarity ensues, and eventually everyone realizes that an escape from reality isn't always a bad thing! D'aw.

Seeing Once on the afternoon of the Tony Awards was an experience that included little sleep and a lot of awe. It was worth it. The music and staging in the show is just so, so beautiful. Able to make your heart ache and your eyes teary before you even know the story or the characters. Having all the actors play their own instruments makes the ensemble a collection of individuals rather than just a group of people. Steve Kazee did an amazing, sensitive, subtle job of communicating so much about his character, "Guy," without stating certain things out loud, as did Cristin Milioti, particularly at the end of act two. And full disclosure: we both cried watching Mr. Kazee accept his Tony later that night.

Our feelings about As You Like It at the Delacorte Theater are basically focused on the brilliant Lily Rabe. She's fantastic. She should perform Shakespeare all the time. The entire production is truly excellent, but...but...Lily Rabe. Lily. Rabe.

And finally, Clybourne Park, which won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play and also deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize last year. The play was very strong in the issues it tackled, but didn't leave us with the revelation of something we'd never thought of before. Rather, the stunted discussion of race in the play illuminated something that's right in front of us every day. With a first act set in 1959 and a second act set in 2009, the show's biggest assets were the many parallels constructed between dialogue, lighting, and character traits that revealed how our society's discussion of race hasn't progressed at all in the past 60 years. We also have a feeling that playwright Bruce Norris would get along smashingly with South Park and Book of Mormon writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone for their shared sense of acerbic, upfront, and at times crude wit.

Extra, Extra! Newsies Is Going To Run For A Million Years!

Tonight, Newsies opens on Broadway.

In a matter of hours, we fully expect a prompt announcement that will put an end to these "limited run!" shenanigans...once and for all. Yeah, we went there.

Hillary and I saw the show from lotto seats this past Sunday with the highest of expectations, based on the deafening buzz surrounding the adaptation of the 1992 movie failure/cult classic and our never-ending appreciation of all things Jeremy Jordan. And to be honest? We can't find a single tidbit about the staged version, which began its life at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey last fall, to pick apart. Our only complaint would be the awkwardly slanted side orchestra seats we were given, which resulted in feeling like we sat on a Tilt-A-Whirl for two and a half hours. (And that the ridiculous Santa Fe dance break from the movie was cut, but that's another story.)

Yes, there are some "DISNEY!!" moments in Newsies. But it's a Disney show. Duh. The result is the perfect first Broadway show for anyone from the cliched ages of 8 to 80. Harvey Fierstein's book serves its purpose - to more or less transition between the show's infectious musical numbers, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman.

Yes, for you die-hard movie fans, there have been some changes. Remember how terribly boring the character of Sarah was? (If you don't, well, that proves our point.) Enter Katherine Plumber, played by the sparkling Kara Lindsay, who, had she been included in the movie, would have been eight-year-old, aspiring-journalist-Michelle's IDOL. As a replacement character for Denton and a new and FAR more compelling love interest for Jack, Katherine is strong, intelligent, determined, and quick with the sarcasm - and these qualities are why Jack likes her! Major feminist props from us to you, Disney.

Nearly half of the young, male-dominated cast makes their Broadway debuts with this show. Combine their energy with a few hundred of Newsies' biggest fans in the audience, and the Nederlander nearly levitated during numbers like "Carrying The Banner" and "Seize The Day." (The crescendo in the middle of the latter inspired Hillary to kick me furiously in the shins.) While the show's highest points remain beautifully re-orchestrated versions of songs from the movie, a few new additions are nice as well, particularly "Brooklyn's Here," "Something to Believe In," and "Watch What Happens," Katherine's number. Medda (Capathia Jenkins) and Pulitzer (John Dossett) each get a new song as well, but it's really the kids we care most about. In the midst of so many powerful and iconic songs, my personal favorite was the build in the middle section of "Once And For All," first heard in this video from the Paper Mill sitzprobe. Live, it's a completely thrilling moment that makes your heartbeat feel like it's shifting the time signature of its palpitations right along with the song.

Christopher Gattelli's choreography is the ridiculous epitome of inventive and infectious. With a penchant for tap dancing and no dance skills whatsoever, watching professional dancers from a few rows back will always remain one of the coolest things about musical theater to me. And these boys can DANCE, flip, twist, tap, DANCE, and did we mention DANCE?! They dance on tables, with metal spoons, and on NEWSPAPERS. Ryan Steele garnered mid-number applause for a particularly impressive pirouette at the performance we attended, and I suspect that was not a one-time deal.

Random tidbits that we enjoyed, narrowed down from a list far too large to include in its entirety - the adorable Matthew Schechter as young Les; golden-voiced Ben Fankhauser as the timid Davey; and a well-utilized relevance and connection to the recent Occupy movement, especially at the show's end, with a call for the young generation to stand up for themselves. Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie proved himself a terrific character actor by stealing the scene in every one of his few appearances. We also loved the clever use of animation (this is Disney, after all) to show the daily chalking of the news headlines, and a image of Katherine as Jack draws her.

If you're wondering how we've gotten this far with minimal mention of the show's triumphant leading man, look no further. As an opening argument, we direct you to his bio, which reads, in part, "He recently starred opposite Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in the gospel hit, Joyful Noise, and also shot some folks as Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde on Broadway."

Jeremy Jordan plays strong, violent, vulnerable, relatable, and admirable all at the same time. His is a voice that we've never heard crack or fall flat. It's fortunate that the show-stopping "Santa Fe" falls at the end of act one, because we needed some time to recover from the high note at its conclusion. (Tangent: can someone please explain to us what is so alluring and fantastic about Santa Fe to musical theater folk?!) Jordan gets to be freer and goofier as Jack than as Clyde, which was a delight to see. Those moments in scenes where the spotlight wasn't on him seemed to be where Jordan really brought Jack's nuances to life. Although we would have loved (read: massive understatement) for him to have had a longer run as Clyde, Jordan is this season's break-out leading man, hands down, and we're feeling  oddly like proud mothers as we read the fantastic notices he's receiving in reviews more legitimate than ours.

External to the show itself, there's the issue of the Newsies cast recording debuting on April 10 (listen to some sample tracks on their Facebook page) and the Bonnie & Clyde cast recording on April 24. We see you, blatant attempt to distract us from every important obligation in April, like an oncoming ensemble of twirling, dancing newsboys that we're powerless to stop.

The only other thing to say about Newsies? How cool is it for each and every Newsie to get their own bow at curtain call. What a thrill to watch the definition of a talented ensemble raise the show to electric heights and then receive individual recognition for a job well done.

Venus in Fur

It's revolutionary to me that the trend of hosting a Blogger's Night seems to be catching on in the New York theater scene. So we write a (badly-up-kept) blog, purely for our own enjoyment - and hopefully yours as well - with no external motives...and have the chance to receive a pair of complementary tickets to see a show? And then write about it? For fun?

What an awesome trend! Kudos to you, Broadway.

Last week, one half of Super Awesome Broadway Ninjas was able to make a mid-week trek to the city and take in Venus in Fur, a two-person play that began its New York run off Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in January 2010, was brought to Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre by Manhattan Theatre Club in October, and moved again to the Lyceum Theatre to play through June 17.

Going into the dark comedy, I had two expectations: 1) that it would be 90 minutes of good, kinky fun (Charles Isherwood's words, not mine), and 2) that Nina Arianda would be a revelation. Both expectations were exceeded. I also walked out wishing I could immediately head to the nearest library and read everything that playwright David Ives has ever written. (It was recently announced that he is working on a new musical with God of All Musical Theater Gods Stephen Sondheim...and after being exposed to his work for the first time with Venus in Fur, I am SO on board with this plan. Let's get to writing, fellows.)

Venus in Fur opens rather abruptly, with playwright Thomas (played by Mark Alhadeff at the performance I saw) lit by the dreaded intensity of florescent lights, multiplied by ten, on the phone and very frustrated after a long and unsuccessful day of auditioning actresses for his play, based on the 19th century novel "Venus in Furs" by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose last name inspired the term "masochism" (and another term as well, should you be clever enough to examine the initials of his last name). In another abrupt entrance, actress Vanda (Arianda) stumbles in, soaking wet with an umbrella that won't close, a wild assortment of costumes, an abundance of curse words that somehow become endearing, and a name that isn't on Thomas's list of appointments. Of course, Vanda convinces him to let her audition, for a character that curiously holds her same name, and also convinces the hesitant Thomas to read opposite her. The audition that ensues takes just about every twist and turn that you couldn't have thought of.

The most interesting part of the play for me was the way in which it examined the shift in patterns of dominance between men and women. Rather than just addressing the issue through dialogue, the play literally morphs into a discussion of the issue as the characters in Ives' play slowly merged with the characters in Thomas's play-within-the-play. At first, accented dialogue could be used to distinguish Vanda and Thomas from the roles they were playing, but suddenly it didn't matter who was who. One minute Vanda is begging Thomas for the chance to audition, and the next she holds power over him with the reveal of details of his personal life that she should or should not know. One minute Thomas is lamenting the shortcomings and failings of every actress who auditioned that day, and the next he's at the mercy of an actress who has many self-confessed shortcomings, but a certain manipulative power as well.

Director versus actress? Male versus female? Playwright versus character? All are upended. The ebb and flow of sympathies, gender dynamics, and sexual tension between Thomas and Vanda weave one of the more thought-provoking and dynamic relationships that I've seen onstage in a while. And this chameleon-like quality is where Nina Arianda shines. Her physicality is hilariously believable, and her line delivery (and Mr. Ives' writing) reminded me of "Modern Family," a fast-paced and really smart style that sling-shots jokes and puns left and right but leaves no time for that I-got-the-joke-ten-seconds-later chuckle.

Mr. Alhadeff, understudy to Hugh Dancy, was wonderful, and I found no flaws with his performance.
I particularly enjoyed a scene in which Thomas lamented the modern tendency to condense, categorize, and therefore oversimplify plays into something that they are not, or something which they transcend by far. Visually, I was intrigued that he is of shorter stature than Arianda, which made the power dynamic even more pronounced during certain scenes when the two stood face to face, until I was told that Arianda also towers over Mr. Dancy, thanks in part to a dangerous pair of heels. But the play is really Arianda's to run with, and sprint away she does. She's dangerous, charming, lovable, mysterious, seductive, the girl-next-door, confusing, and crystal clear all at once. I'm still not quite certain which of Vanda's stories were meant to be true or not.

As a fan of creative structure, interesting characters, and performances that truly come to life, I loved every minute spent watching the erotic antics play out between Vanda and Thomas. Vanda's true motives are never quite revealed - or should I say confirmed - but Ives' characters are so intensely dynamic that I left wishing I could meet these people in real life, not stuck on how their stories came to intersect.

In which this spring will be CRAZYPANTS.

Recently, we took it upon ourselves to update those sidebars on the right side of your screen that you probably never look at. And if you take a gander at the box labeled "Upcoming Shows," you'll see the impetus for this post.

We try our best not to become serial show-repeaters - moving too quickly among one-show obsessions (like a preacher through whiskey - ba-doom-ching!). But when a show comes along and grabs us by the heart, there's not much we can do about it. The only problem with shows that require (yes, require) multiple visits? WHEN MULTIPLE SHOWS LIKE THIS OPEN AT THE SAME TIME.

Read: this spring, we can count the number of new shows that we feel indifferent about on one hand. In summary...uh-oh.

In this spirit, we present to you our Top Five Shows We Know Will Become Raging Addictions Before They've Even Opened:

Now. Here. This. Hillary was graced with the opportunity to see the workshop production of Now.Here.This. at the Vineyard Theatre last summer, and from her complete inability to describe the awesomeness of what happened that night to me, I can only expect a phenomenal whirl of wit, wisdom, heartbreak, life advice, and catharsis. The artwork for the show alone evokes so much - Susan is cooly pondering the wonders of the universe, Jeff is gazing skyward in awe, Heidi is basking in the hilarity of a joke that Susan told a minute ago, and Hunter looks vaguely afraid that the Earth is going to fall on his head. It's the latest gig from the [title of show] gang, and the world actually will fall on Hunter's head before we miss this.

Newsies. Please watch this. And this. And this. Note the most awesome choreography ever. And the way that Jeremy Jordan sings the mother-effin' hell out of "Santa Fe." (Why are all musicals obsessed with Santa Fe, anyways? What's so great about New Mexico?) And tell us that you're not excited. Christian Bale, step aside. We love the movie, but we're going to love the stage version more.

Leap of Faith. Although Leap of Faith didn't get glowing reviews during its premiere a few years back in Los Angeles, buzz seems to indicate that positive revisions have been made. If nothing else, finally getting to see Raul Esparza sing in person is going to leave both of us in a giant puddle on the floor. OH, AND DID WE MENTION THAT JESSICA PHILLIPS IS FINALLY OBTAINING LEADING LADY STATUS ON THE BROADWAY?! Add in the inevitable evening where Raul calls out of the show in favor of serenading his mirror with "Being Alive," and we have a major situation in which Louis Hobson, the cover for Esparza, goes on opposite Ms. Phillips, and the entire universe goes up in proud-Next-to-Normal-fan flames.

Pipe Dream. Full disclosure: we bought our tickets for this Encores production, playing at New York City Center in March, one week after a single person in the cast had been announced. And we NEVER buy tickets in advance for things. Laura Osnes, back on stage. What other justification do you need, dear readers? Our excitement has since gained momentum with Will Chase, Tom Wopat, and Leslie Uggams joining the cast. We don't know much (read: anything) about the 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein flop, but the original cast recording is an absolute gas to listen to. (One of the lyrics is "stupid sons of fishes to live in a tide pool." We're not sure about the context of that line yet, but it seems like a real gem.)

Peter and the Starcatcher. Let it be known that we will be taking up residency at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre beginning March 28 for an indefinite period of time. We saw Peter and the Starcatcher three times during its NYTW run last spring. (Our review of that is here.) The large majority of the original cast is transferring with the show to Broadway, including the brilliant Adam Chanler-Berat, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and the biggest surprise of the bunch, Christian Borle, who somehow finagled his filming schedule for Smash to reprise his role as Black Stache. Our anticipation to see this show again can only be summarized with a cliche smash of my keyboard: SLKDFJSLDKFJSKDLJF. Herein lies the biggest obstacle to seeing shows that are not Peter and the Starcatcher this spring. So very excited to re-experience the magic of this production.