Monday, March 24, 2008
Ok, I've been a little neglectful of my blogging over the weekend. But even when I'm not writing about the theater, I am reading and thinking about it. And I did read some great theater stories in the New York Times that I want to mention.
A profile of Laura Benanti. I'm the first to admit that I can be more than a little bit starstruck. I was really looking forward to Patti LuPone in last summer's Encores production of Gypsy, and I knew she wouldn't disappoint. But I didn't know what to expect from Laura Benanti as Louise. The way Benanti transformed herself from a gawky, insecure adolescent into a stunning, confident stripper has really stayed with me. I'm looking forward to seeing her in the role again on Sunday.
Until I read Celia McGee's profile, I didn't know anything about Ms. Benanti. It was interesting to read that to portray Louise, she taps into the loneliness she felt as a child growing up in New Jersey. And I didn't realize that she fractured her neck playing Cinderella in the 2002 production of Into the Woods. Obviously, it was an incredibly scary experience. She was partially paralyzed at times and had to undergo an operation that could have damaged her voice. But fortunately, Benanti is doing fine now. “I can walk, and I can sing, and I am healthy for the first time in a long time,” she told McGee.
Broadway shows for kids. Robin Pogrebin writes about taking her 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter to see musicals beyond the usual Disney fare, ones that weren't especially written for children their age but which they might like. I was happy to read that her son enjoyed Curtains: "I loved the mystery of it." And I'm especially excited about seeing In the Heights, which he called "almost flawless."
But there's one pretty child-friendly play I'd like to recommend: The 39 Steps, the British import now in an open-ended run at the Cort Theatre. Yes, it does help immensely if you've seen the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie beforehand. But it's so funny, with so much inspired, physical humor, that I think anyone from a preteen on up would enjoy it. And it's good to let the kids know that they can enjoy an action-adventure story without anything getting blown up.
And if I could just recommend one non-Disney musical, it would probably be Hairspray. I haven't seen it on Broadway, only on tour. I'm a big fan of its catchy pop score and I love the story. It's about teenagers and fitting in and standing up for what you believe in. Plus, it's a truly integrated musical. As the decades go by, the civil-rights movement is a period that we're dangerously close to forgetting. Hairspray tells that story in such an engaging, fun way that never sounds preachy.
South Pacific and Gypsy: Both of these are on my weekend schedule, so it was interesting to read Charles Isherwood's take on what he calls the two "theatrical bookends of the 1950s." Isherwood believes that they have quite a bit to say about the distance American musical theatre traveled in that 10-year span.
I'd never thought of the two shows that way - contrasting South Pacific and its more optimistic message with Gypsy as a harbinger of darker themes to come in American society. Isherwood concludes that while he loves Momma Rose, American audiences today may be more in the mood for what South Pacific dishes up.