Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Taking my shows on the road

I've been eagerly anticipating the announcement of next season's shows at the Providence Performing Arts Center. I knew it would be my first chance to see on tour some of the musicals I've loved on Broadway, and be able to compare the two. But of all the musicals in all the world why oh why does it have to be Legally Blonde that opens its national tour in Providence in September?

I saw Legally Blonde on MTV last fall and I was underwhelmed. I liked the catchy opening number: "Omigod You Guys," but the rest of it I thought was nothing special. Reese Witherspoon's personality was a large part of what made the 2001 movie work for me, and while Laura Bell Bundy was good, I didn't find her nearly as perky, witty and engaging.

Plus, I'd read about the offensive nature of the "is he gay or European?" courtroom scene and when I finally saw it, well it was cringe-worthy. (You know, before Broadway lyricists or Jay Leno start making gay people the butt of their jokes, I wish they'd substitute blacks or Jews or any other group of people and see whether it's still funny.)

Ok, lets see what's up next: Grease. Well, it is coming in early December, and if I don't have anything else to do that Sunday afternoon, I'll consider going. Or maybe not. The lukewarm to negative reviews of the current Broadway revival haven't inspired me to see it, even if it is playing to 98 percent capacity at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. I've seen the movie, and that's probably enough.

But don't shed any tears for me yet - things are looking up in early 2009 when Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line, Spring Awakening and The Color Purple will stop by in February, March, April and May. I love the music and the stories of all four shows and I definitely recommend them.

In fact, A Chorus Line was the first Broadway musical I ever saw on stage. It was in Boston, probably in the fall of 1977, although I'm a little hazy on the date. A few months ago, I listened to the Broadway cast CD for the first time in a long time, and I'd forgotten how genuinely moving it was to hear these dancers tell their stories and talk about their dreams. I'm really looking forward to seeing the show again.

And I will actually get to see Fiddler on stage in English with Chaim Topol as Tevye, the same actor I saw in the role in Tel Aviv in Hebrew in 1998. I'll be able to say that I've seen an actor play the same role in two different countries, in two different languages on two different continents in two different centuries. How cool is that!

It's fitting that The Color Purple is coming right afterward. Ever since I saw it last summer I've thought about how it compares with Fiddler. Both are stories of close-knit, deeply religious communities that endure oppression and must face a hostile outside world. It's the kind of musical that can be difficult to watch at times - it deals unflinchingly with issues of domestic violence and racism. But the story of an unloved and abused girl's transformation to a self-confident, successful woman is such a heartfelt journey. I'd encourage everyone to see it.

And Spring Awakening, wow! I love the rock 'n' roll score, the imaginative staging of numbers like "The Bitch of Living." The story, about teenage anxiety and burgeoning sexuality in 19th century Germany, was a little predictable, but I have to tell you, I was crying at the end. Its youthful cast demonstrated incredible energy. This is the one show I can say that I saw with it's original Broadway cast. I'll be waiting to see if I feel the same way about it on tour. I wonder whether they'll have on-stage seating?

Other shows that I'm looking forward to next season include a musical version of the sitcom Happy Days, in January, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in March. I loved the 1968 movie of CCBB as a kid. The stage version was launched in London in 2002 and opened on Broadway in 2005, where it only played for 285 performances. And I know Happy Days so well from the television show that aired from 1974 to 1984. The musical, with songs by Paul Williams, had a run last fall at New Jersey's Papermill Playhouse.


Mike said...

Your season sounds a lot like the Houston season, some of which I catch when I visit the parents.

I'm hoping to catch "Fiddler" when it's in Houston. I've heard it through the grapevine that he's kind of just going through the motions at this point, but I haven't been able to see him in the role yet, and this might be my last shot.

Esther said...

Topol was great 10 years ago, but he is 10 years older now, and you're probably right about going through the motions. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing it, just for the reasons I mentioned. I wish I'd been able to see Harvey Fierstein as Tevye on Broadway, even though I guess his singing wasn't that great.

I'm surprised we're not getting Jersey Boys. There's a huge Italian population in Rhode Island and I think it would be a big draw.