As the 2017- 2018 theater season is now coming to a close and with the Tony Awards being only a few weeks away, I decided what better time than now to write about the shows I was fortunate enough to have been able to have seen this theater season. This current season was an interesting one compared to previous seasons before it. Unlike last season where there was like an overload of new musicals (to the point of where this theater loving gal, felt overwhelmed cause I always want to see as much as possible can), this season offered very few by comparison. As far as the play front, I did manage to see one sole play. As far as shows go, I always usually end up seeing way more musicals than stage plays most of my theater going time. So this article will mostly be on the musical side of Broadway. Although, I do enjoy myself a great stage play here and there, my go- to shows are usually that of musicals.
This theater season for me started off on somewhat of a rocky start. A family member of mine who is my “constant theater buddy” had to get cataract surgery on their eye. Then I found out I had to get my wisdom teeth out. So to put it lightly, neither one of us were really thinking about what next shows we wanted to see at the time during these few months.
I am what some might call “a regular theatergoer”. I try to see as much as I possibly can in every theater season. There are definitely times throughout the year were I don’t go every month. Although, this season, life situations got in the way of me being “that consistent theater nerd who goes to shows”. This season was probably the longest break that this “Theater Loving Gal” has had from seeing Broadway shows on a regular basis in many a years. I saw two shows last June right before the Tony Awards, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Bronx Tale, on the same day. Both great and excellent productions. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has since closed, but A Bronx Tale is still playing (definite recommend if you have yet to see this beyond wonderful production). So, I saw those two shows and then the Tony Awards came. Then life got in the way as it occasionally does and I didn’t see my next show until the middle of December. Whatttttttttttt!!!!!! Yes, that is how I imagine most theater loving nerds just as myself must think when I say I didn’t see a single show on the great Broadway stage for just about six whole months. At a certain point, I actually felt like my theater going days might be over. That now I’m just a theater nerd who doesn’t go to see shows on the Broadway stage anymore. It was during this time that I felt like I might have finally reached that point in my life where seeing shows was now a thing of the past. Great shows, great moments at the theater, felt over for me.
Then a miraculous theater miracle happened. After about a five year absence from the Broadway stage, Mark Rylance was announced to be returning to New York to star in a show called Farinelli and the King. During that absence, you know he went on to star in a few movies and you know win an Oscar! I still haven’t seen the movie that won him an Oscar yet. I’m a “Super TV Nerd” when in Jersey, so TV shows usually occupy my TV viewing all of the time, and not movies. Although, one of these days I will watch that movie.
Okay, moving back on to theater talk. Mark Rylance is seriously one of the most amazing actors of our time. I have seen every play he’s ever performed in while in New York, with the exception of Twelfth Night and Nice Fish. Anytime I have to opportunity to see this performer on stage, it’s a trip worthwhile. He gives it his all and is one of the most dedicated performers I have ever seen on stage. So, I thank him not only for being the amazing talent that he is, but I also thank the theater angels for him returning back to the Broadway stage this season. Farinelli and the King was the first show I saw this season after a long drought of being away from Broadway for so very long. I knew I couldn’t miss this show and this performer, and this show was the kick for me to finally get back to what I love doing which is being “That Super Theater Loving Nerd Who Tries To See Every Show She Possibly Can”. The show was wonderful as well as Rylance and the rest of the company.
Then a little around two months went by. Being a bit of a slower season for the musical side this year, this was probably the best season for me to not have been that regular theatergoer that I have become. In the fall alone, only three new musicals and one revival had opened. I was behind on a small amount of shows compared to a larger amount of shows. So in February, I went to go see Escape to Margaritaville and “Hello Dolly!”, in one day.
I had known about Escape to Margaritaville for quite awhile now at this point because it had had a few out- of- town tryouts. I hadn’t seen a musical since June at this point, and was happy that my first musical back would be something light and fun. And it was! I am not a super fan of Jimmy Buffett’s music, so I wasn’t aware of a lot of his songs, but I thoroughly enjoyed this show. It had all the feels of a Mamma Mia type show but with that island breeze. It was fun, light, charming and an energetic show fill with laughs and that cool atmosphere of just “Hey, take it easy”. The cast was thoroughly enjoyable to watch perform and they matched the light hearted feel of this lovely show. (P.S. To those interested- this show will perform until July 1st, 2018 then close. After closing, a national tour will then embark.)
Later that night, I saw “Hello, Dolly!”. I was originally planning on seeing “Hello, Dolly!” on a bus trip in the summer of 2017, but plans fell through and I didn’t end up seeing it. Seeing how at the time tickets were pretty tough to get, I kind of just let this show pass on by for me. Usually for the most part if I don’t see a show in the season that it opens in, that excitement that I had for that show usually slowly fades goes away. So after plans fell through for seeing the show, I really never thought I end up seeing it at all and I was at peace with that.
When Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce left the production, Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber took over their parts. And just like that, a show that was nearly impossible to get a ticket for suddenly became a little less hard. I also was able to find a discount which is always a bonus these days with tickets prices being what they are. So with not a lot of new shows still yet playing, I decided on finally seeing the show after all. And boy, was it a show! I had heard great things about this production, but just hearing how good it is doesn’t do the show justice. Amazing, phenomenal, wonderful, fantastic, great, simply heavenly are all things that come to mind when thinking about this wonderful production that was that of “Hello, Dolly!”. Even though, it was a show that takes places ages ago, it felt new and fresh and it didn’t feel it the least bit outdated. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this, simply because my go-to favorite shows are usually that of the campy, over-the-top ridiculous nature such as The Wedding Singer or Rock of Ages.
Every single thing about this revival just worked. From the sets, to the costumes, to the wonderful songs. I can’t talk about this show and not mentioned the performances of Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber. Just simply, so on top of their game. I have never been to a show where you could just feel the love in the audience for the performers as I did at this show. The audience just ate them up. It’s too bad the Tony Awards don’t have a replacement category because these two would surely win. I never did get to see Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce. Although, I just simply can’t imagine anyone but Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber in those parts now. This production will be a show I will always cherish as being able to have seen because I almost let it pass on by. (P.S.- To those interested Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber will continue to be in the show until July 15. After that on July 17- August 25 (when the show will close), Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce will return the to production until closing. Get your tickets now, before they’re impossible to get again.)
Yet another two months pass on by. It’s now April. The only two musicals that opened in the fall that I was interested in seeing was that of the SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical and The Band’s Visit. So finally in the middle of April, I went to see those two shows in a single day. They couldn’t be more different than one another, but they were both simply wonderful.
I have watched SpongeBob Squarepants, here and there years ago on TV. I was never an avid watcher of the program, but I was somewhat familiar with the characters to understand who was who, for the most part. This show had an out-of-town tryout in Chicago awhile ago, and it felt like it was never going to make its way to New York.
Although, this fall it finally made its debut! I was so happy to finally get to see this charming, quirky little delight of a new musical. The songs were all originals written just for the show and they just popped. This show was lively, colorful, energetic, cute and never once had a boring moment throughout its two and a half hour run. I just simply loved it through and through.
As with any show that has been playing a few months, there are bound to be performer absences. The lead, Ethan Slater who plays SpongeBob, was out of the show for my performance. Although, the silver lining in that disappointment was his understudy (Curtis Holbrook) was a performer from one of my all time favorite shows which is that of Xanadu. (P.S. Keep a lookout for this show at the Tony Awards as they are nominated for a total of 12 awards!)
Then later that night, I went to see The Band’s Visit. I had been highly aware of this production for quite some time before I got to see it. It had generated quite the buzz prior to its Broadway run when it played off-broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company. That plus the amazing cast which includes Katrina Lenk (Indecent), John Cariani (Fiddler on the Roof, Something Rotten!), Tony Shalhoub (TV’s Monk and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), peaked my interest in this new musical.
All that buzz about how great and unique this musical is was completely true. Unlike every other musical that opened this season, The Band’s Visit, stands out just a little bit more than the rest. It does for the reason which is that it’s not every season that you get a little show with a huge heart that enters the world that is Broadway. It’s a show that has strength, emotion, and a relatability factor. The songs are funny at times, and sad on others. The melodies are full of glorious tones with rhythms that make you really hear the songs. A highlight of this production was when Katrina Lenk sang “Omar Sharif”. It was a song sung absolutely beautifully and completely grabbed your attention in every moment she was singing.
Out of the four new musicals nominated, The Band’s Visit, is the one to beat. It stands out from the rest with it’s simplistic charm of just trying to live your life and find what makes you happy in this world that can sometimes feel so heavy. (P.S. The Band’s Visit got a total of 11 Tony nominations!)
April went on by and now May had arrived. A musical I knew was going to generate buzz and box office gold was that of the highly anticipated stage adaptation of the popular film, Mean Girls. I love great movies that are turned into stage musicals. Some of my all time favorites shows were adapted from great movies. The Wedding Singer and Legally Blonde are shows that I will forever cherish as being favorites of mine. Back to Mean Girls. You never know how movie adaptations are going to turn out for stage productions. Sometimes they are soooooo great like The Wedding Singer and Legally Blonde. Other times not so great, such as with Big Fish and Can Me If You Can. Although, with the case of Mean Girls: The Musical, I’m here to report that…….. it’s fantastic! It’s a completely solid, nearly perfect adaptation.
To put it simply, everything just worked perfectly. From the highly talented cast, to the colorful sets and costumes, to the songs that were perfection from one to the next. With the exception of last year’s Groundhog Day, Mean Girls is the best movie to stage adaptation I’ve seen since Legally Blonde. It was just simply excellent! It was sharp, smart, witty with funny moments throughout the entire production. It also made you think.
Last year’s standout song for me was Dear Evan Hansen’s “Waving Through A Window”. This year my favorite new song with a standout number was from this musical which was “I’d Rather Be Me”. Another category that should be added to the Tony Awards is Best New Song, and “I’d Rather Be Me” would certainly be a top contender. (P.S. Mean Girls: The Musical got a total of 12 Tony Nominations!)
We have now reached the day before the last day of May. It’s this time when I see the most highly anticipated musical of this theater season. Yes, this is when I finally got to see Frozen on Broadway! Just to give you just a little idea of how excited I was to finally be seeing this show is just imagine the character of Sue (from the ABC show The Middle) screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!”. Yeah, that excited! I had been waiting for this day for what seemed like forever and a day and here it finally was.
The reviews came out well before I finally got to see it. I tend to not read reviews for a show until I have seen it. Even still, my understanding from the reviews is that were they were pretty mixed. Not a great show, but not a bad one either. Movie adaptations are super hard, especially for a movie such as Frozen. A movie that was so extremely successful and adored.
Initially, Frozen: The Musical was going to be directed by the visionary that is Alex Timbers. He has previously directed productions which include that of: Blood, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, The Robber Bridegroom, and Oh, Hello. A true talent with a unique style to all his shows that make them stand out and are different and memorable. For whatever reason may be, he and Disney parted ways and he was ultimately replaced with another director.
When it came to the casting for Frozen, I feel this was a part in which the production that was perfect. Casting Elsa and Anna was key to making this show work. The casting of the two actresses who are playing sisters, Elsa and Anna, was done exactly on point. Cassie Levy plays Elsa to Patti Murin’s Anna. Both shine in their parts and you really feel as though these two are sisters for real and not just on stage. I was a bit surprised when Tony Nominations came out and Patti Murin’s name wasn’t on the list. From everything I heard about her performance was so positive, I expected to see her name. After seeing the show, I am still surprised how her performance wasn’t acknowledged. If there was anyone that was born to play a Disney princess, it is Murin. She shines in her part throughout the whole show. My favorite moment in the entire production is when she and John Riddle perform “Love is An Open Door”. I know you were probably expecting me to say “Let It Go”. As much as I did like Levy’s version, it didn’t quite have the same impact that Idina Menzel’s version from the film had for me.
As for the show itself, I unfortunately did not like it. I didn’t loathe it, but I simply didn’t love it. I was disappointed at the end of it. It’s not the production’s fault by any means. I think I just had so much expectation for this show. And It felt like the show was just passing me on by. After it was over, I just felt kind of let down. I’m not sure what exactly went wrong. The show just felt bland. It was like I was watching it go by and then it was over. It’s the opposite of how I thought I would feel of this show, but something just didn’t click for me and I found myself not invested in it. At the end of the day, the performances were there and there were a few memorable songs for a show that ultimately just fell flat. (P.S. Frozen: The Musical received a total of 3 Tony Nominations!)
So, yup. That was my year in review for the 2017- 2018 Broadway Theater Season. Was this article way longer than I planned on it being? Yup! So to those of you who actually read all of this gal’s thoughts on shows from this season, thanks! I hope it was enjoyable to any other theater nerds out there who can appreciate someone’s thoughts such as mine about a few shows. For someone who thought her Broadway going days were over when this season started I am pleasantly surprised by how many shows I actually did end up seeing this awesome theater season! Whether I ended up loving the show or feeling disappointed, I am always so grateful and appreciative whenever I get to show on the great Broadway stage.