April 30, 2019 LIFESTYLE

On Broadway, Part II

Jeffrey Allen

You already know that the powers that be asked me to review some Broadway productions in anticipation of our trip to New York for the Spring meeting. In this month’s piece I will review eight productions: My Fair LadyHarry Potter and the Cursed Child (Part One)Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Part Two)Pretty Woman, FrozenThe PromKing Kong, and Mean Girls.

You already know that the powers that be asked me to review some Broadway productions in anticipation of our trip to New York for the Spring meeting. In this month’s piece I will review eight productions: My Fair Lady, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Part One), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Part Two), Pretty Woman, Frozen, The Prom, King Kong, and Mean Girls.

If you want to consider the two Harry Potter productions as a single production, you can, especially as one makes little sense without the other; but they really do deserve separate treatment.

My Fair Lady

Conflict disclosure: I have always liked Lerner and Lowe and My Fair Lady has been one of my favorite musicals for most of my life. I saw Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 film and concluded that I thought Rex Harrison was an amazing actor and that I wished I could have seen him live.

I had never seen the musical live on Broadway until its most recent revival. We saw it last February in the Lincoln Center Theater (one of New York’s newest and most comfortable). Laura Benanti played Eliza Doolittle and Harry Hadden-Paton played Rex Harrison―oops, Henry Higgins. While I was somewhat disappointed that Rex Harrison was unable to reprise his role, I thought Harry Hadden-Paton did a good job with it. Laura Benanti was also very good as Eliza.

As of April 3, 2019, they remain in the lead roles and I am not aware of any changes in those characters planned before we get to New York. The revival opened to rave reviews in 2018 and does not disappoint. Although it only won one Tony (Costume Design), it received 10 nominations:including: Best Revival, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical.

If you enjoy Lerner & Lowe, like My Fair Lady, or just want to see a traditional, good, old-fashioned Broadway musical, you should take in this show.

Pretty Woman

I guess that the folks that write Broadway shows are having a hard time coming up with new and novel ideas, so the latest theme of Broadway is a story based on a movie. Back in the old days they would occasionally do a movie based on a Broadway show (like My Fair Lady); but now the worm has turned and several currently playing Broadway shows—and a number that have come and gone―have been based on movies.

Pretty Woman is a musical of that genre. We saw it in February, and it was entertaining; but I must admit that I enjoyed the movie better. The Broadway musical replicated some scenes from the movie and pretty much followed the movie’s story line. In this show, Samantha Barks played Vivian Ward and Andy Karl played Edward Lewis. While both entertained and did a credible job with their characters, I did not enjoy them as much as I enjoyed Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in the movie roles. It continues to play at the Nederlander theatre. Barks and Karl continue in the lead roles.

Knowing what I know about it, I would still go to see it, as I did enjoy it and found it entertaining; but it would not be my first choice of Broadway shows if I could only see one.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts One and Two)

The Harry Potter and the Cursed Child plays remind me of the old Certs commercial: they are two plays in one (or maybe they are one play from two). Anyway, here’s the deal. The ever-imaginative J.K Rowling decided to write a sequel to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last of the original best-selling Harry Potter series. Written with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out as the script for a play (or a movie) instead of a simple story; it ended up a highly successful production in London’s West End and is now on Broadway (with the actual script for the play created by co-author Jack Thorne).

As with the earlier Potter books, the story line has many twists, turns and unexpected events, which keep it interesting. By the time they finished the sequel, it became an epoch. People do not do 5-6 hour productions as a single show on Broadway, it just takes up too much time. So, the production split into two plays (each a little longer than 2.5 hours), using a fairly logical point in the plot for the break. (Also a great way to double your fun and your profits by selling each viewer two tickets, one for each of the two parts).

Make no mistake about it, if you see Part One without seeing Part Two, you will feel a sense of incompleteness. Part One does not have a proper ending; it serves as the prelude to Part Two. Conversely, if you skip Part One and go directly to Part Two, you will have no sense of how the characters got to where they are, and you will lose a lot of the meaning by not having the background of Part One. Bottom line, it is a commitment, but you need to plan on seeing both Part One and Part Two (in that order) if you want to get the full enjoyment of the production.

Speaking of background, while they do not require that you have either read the books or seen the movies (or a combination of both), if you have done neither, you will miss a great deal of the irony and the history that the writers assume you know when you watch the Cursed Child. The Cursed Child story really is Harry Potter, the second generation. In the Cursed Child, Harry and his friends have grown up, married, and procreated. Harry (now married to his best friend’s sister, the former Ginny Weasley), works for the Ministry of Magic and has several children, including his very troubled youngest son, Albus (named after his mentor from his Hogwarts days, Albus Dumbledore). Albus ultimately goes to Hogwarts (as all good and many bad young British wizards do) and gets assigned by the Sorting Hat to, of all places (act surprised), Slytherin, where he ends up the roommate and best friend Scorpius Malfoy, the equally troubled son of Harry’s bete noire from his Hogwarts days, Draco Malfoy. The play focuses on the efforts and exploits of Scorpius and Albus, as they set off through time to correct a perceived great historic wrong that occurred while Harry and his friends matriculated at Hogwarts (and, of course, directly involved Harry, himself). In endeavoring to right this wrong, Scorpius and Albus make a series of missteps (which, as any science fiction buff will tell you, serves as the basic premise in many time-travel stories) that create what the British might call a “sticky wicket.” Both generations get into the act to try to correct the mess made by the boys. Not surprisingly, the play has a surprising twist at the end, but I won’t give it away, even with a spoiler alert. If you want to know, you will just have to see the plays (or at least read the script).

Typical of Rowling’s stories, the bittersweet ending carries some interesting messages. Along the way, you have a very entertaining couple of evenings.

One of the latest themes of Broadway staging has become special effects. The Cursed Child has its share of special effects, but when you attend the show, do not refer to them as “special effects.” The stage crew and staff get very touchy about that and pointedly remind you that these acts of magic represent true magic and NOT special effects.

We saw The Cursed Child at the Lyric Theatre, with a cast that included Noma Dumezweni as the grown-up Hermoine Granger, now married to Ron Weasley (played by Paul Thornley). Jamie Parker (who originated the role in London’s West End production and won a Best Actor award for it in 2017) played Harry Potter and Poppy Miller, his wife Ginny. Alex Price played Draco Malfoy and Anthony Boyle, his son, Scorpius. Sam Clemmet played Albus Potter. And Jessie Fisher played the role of Delphi Diggery.

The entire cast did an excellent job, and we thoroughly enjoyed both nights and both parts of the production. I highly recommend it to you. FYI, I am not the only one with good things to say about the production. Everyone we talked to who saw it liked it, and when the plays opened in London’s West End, they scored 22 major UK theatre awards (9 of which were Olivier Awards, including Best Play) and the Broadway production received 10 Tony nominations and won six Tony Awards, also including Best Play.

Tickets for this one may prove hard to get, so don’t delay if you plan to see it in May.

Interesting side notes: The cost of creating the plays (remodeling the theatre to accommodate the “magic”, salaries, etc.) came to about $68.5 million, making it the most expensive non-musical production in the history of Broadway. According to the NY Times, most non-musical productions on Broadway cost about $3.5 million to produce and the more expensive musical extravaganzas usually come in under $25 million. So, it’s not surprising that you have to pay for two tickets a person to see it. I am advised that when it opened in NY for previews that in its third week it broke the Broadway record for single-week ticket sales for a nonmusical production on Broadway, bringing in more than $2.1 million.

Frozen

Based on the Disney movie and playing at the St. James theatre, this Disney production proved very engaging, . Disney has figured out the trick to converting its movies to Broadway, as Frozen represents one more in a continually increasing line of Broadway successes for the media giant. Thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining, the princesses, Anna (Aisha Jackson) and Elsa (Caissie Levy) both did excellent jobs and have very nice voices. Sven and Olaf—always entertaining characters―were played by Andrew Pirozzi (Sven) and Greg Hildreth (Olaf). As most Broadway productions based on movies do, this one borrowed heavily from the movie from which it derived, presenting some of the movie’s scenes relatively intact and other scenes modified to accommodate a live stage production.

Following the more recent trend on Broadway, the special effects people worked their magic to create some truly stunning effects to accommodate the magic of the ice princess. The production has attracted lots of young children. Probably in a higher percentage at the matinees than the evenings (that’s a guess, as we saw a matinee that had a healthy number of young children in the audience). If you have a grandchild handy, you will want to bring them to this performance. The kids we saw and talked to (with parental permission and supervision) really enjoyed the show. If you bring a grandchild, be sure to ask for a booster seat. The theatre has a goodly number of them, but they actually ran out at the performance we attended.

We enjoyed the performance and recommend it to you; but I have to tell you that I liked the movie version better. Frozen received three Tony nominations: Best Book of a Musical, Best Musical, and Best Original Score Written for the Theatre. It did not, however, receive any Tony Awards (losing in all three categories to “The Band’s Visit” (also an excellent production that we saw last year).

The Prom

This entertaining musical comedy tells a story of altruism overcoming personal greed and takes on the subject of gender identity and choice in a fashion that carefully balances serious with light. A small group of entertainers looks for a social cause to pick up their failing careers and ends up getting involved in a midwestern high school’s prom due to the publicity generated when the school forbids a female student to invite a female date to the prom.  We saw it at the Longacre Theatre and found it quite entertaining, well written and presented. Beth Leavel gave us an excellent Dee Dee. In the performance we saw, Josh Lamon stepped in for Brooks Ashmanskas as Barry (a gay actor who took the teenager’s situation personally). He gave a Broadway-worthy performance.  The other two entertainers who form the quartet are Christopher Sieber (Trent Oliver) and Angie Schworer (Angie). Caitlen Kinnunen did a superb job as Emma, the lesbian teenager who only wanted to bring her girlfriend to the prom.  Consider this a somewhat traditional musical comedy, as it relied on the book and the talent without special effects. We liked it, not as much as Frozen, but more than Mean Girls and King Kong.

King Kong

Playing at the Broadway Theatre, King Kong presents a handful of scenes from the movie modified for presentation in a live stage performance. We liked the movie a lot more than the Broadway production. The acting troupe, led by Christiana Pitts as Ann Darrow and Erick William Morris as Carl Denham, gave very decent performances but were handicapped by a flawed book. I would not recommend this production to you, except for one thing: its special effects. The best part of this production is the presentation of a 20’ high silverback gorilla named “Kong.” There was something very special about seeing the King brought to life on the live stage. A little research developed the following pieces of information about the presentation. King Kong is 20’ tall and weighs 2000 pounds. It takes 14 actors and 16 microprocessors to bring the animatronic ape to life; and bring it to life they do, sad eyes and all. The lifelike expressions and emotions shown through the puppet ape may take you by surprise. If you have extra time, this show is worth seeing simply to see the special effects associated with the presentation of the gorilla.

Mean Girls

Tina Fey’s Mean Girls plays at the August Wilson Theatre. It brings the important socially conscious and moral messages that bullying and cyber-bullying are bad. Unfortunately, the medium was not as good as the message in my opinion. I cannot compare it to the movie, as I did not see the movie. The book was written by Tina Fey (who also wrote the movie). It has some humor that withstood the test of time, some newly added humor, and some that still says 2004 that does not work so well now and probably should have come out of the script. The music (written by Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond) left something to be desired by Broadway standards. It had its moments, but overall, I would give it a “C” grade. I thought that the production dragged a bit until the intermission but came to life after the intermission. The fact that the post-intermission portion moved better and stronger than the pre-intermission portion saved the entire production from mediocrity. Notwithstanding these issues, kudos to Taylor Louderman, Ashley Park, Kate Rockwell, Barrett Wilbert Weed, and Grey Henson for very decent performances in a less than stunning musical.

Author

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA book Technology Tips for Seniors.