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.


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