I managed to squeeze nine (well, technically 10) shows into a recent holiday to the United States. A week in Los Angeles (yes, I went to L.A. and watched theatre), and a week in New York provided a lot of chances to see shows and friends. But mainly shows…
2:22: A Ghost Story ★★★1/2
The day I arrived in Los Angeles I had the evening to myself before a friend would meet me, so I took the chance to see a show I’d heard a lot of good things about from friends in London, 2:22: A Ghost Story.
This chilling four-hander featured Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians, Hustlers), Finn Wittrock (a bunch of Ryan Murphy shows), Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) and Adam Rothenberg (Ozark).
Jenny (Wu) is convinced her house is haunted, her husband Sam (Whittrock) doesn’t believe in the supernatural. So Jenny concocts a plan. Each night, the ghost appears at 2:22am, so she invites their old friend Lauren (Camp) and her boyfriend Ben (Rothenburg) over to act as impartial witnesses. What follows is a lot a jump scares (some incredibly cheap but fun) and a dissection of belief that has a surprising twist at the end.
Highly entertaining, if a little repetitive, it’s easy to see why it’s had a long run in London. The production felt a bit lost in the large space of the Ahmanson Theatre, but the scares worked and the ending had a poignancy worth experiencing.
The Inheritance ★★★★★
Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance was the toast of London in 2018/19 where the Stephen Daldry directed production sold out its original run at The Young Vic theatre before transfering to the West End and becoming THE show to see (despite its prohibitive running time – a two play epic running more than 6.5hours in total). However, when the show hit Broadway it failed to replicate the success, before closing due to the arrival of Covid. The L.A. run was delayed before eventually opening this year. Same production with an entirely new cast.
A queer, contemporary retelling of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, The Inheritance tells the story of Eric and Toby, a gay couple in New York who form a friendship with an older gay couple, as well as a young aspiring actor. The scope of the play is epic, with Forster himself appearing as a main character, taking in the AIDS crisis, the 2016 US election and the power of art and storytelling. The first act of the first part is famous for sending the audience out of the auditorium in tears, while the end of the first play is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve ever had in the theatre. It’s had the same gut-punch of emotion each time I’ve seen it, the power has not diminished.
I’ve been following The Inheritance since the beginning, having seen it in previews at The Young Vic, all the way to Broadway, and now to Los Angeles for the swan-song of this unique production. While the London and Broadway runs kept the same lead actors (Andrew Burnap, Kyle Soller and Samuel H Levine), this L.A. version had an entirely new cast, including some extra diverse casting and slight tweaks to the staging (more onstage penis was a notable change).
The new cast featured Adam Kantor (The Band’s Visit, Rent), Juan Castano (Encanto, What/If) and Tuc Watkins (The Boys in the Band). The real stand out however was Bradley James Tejeda in the role of Adam/Leo. Tejeda had understudied the role on Broadway and delivered a take on the character that rivalled the original.
The size of the Gil Cates Theatre at the Geffen Playhouse is more akin to the size of The Young Vic in London, and the show definitely benefits from playing to a more intimate house. The size of West End and Broadway houses worked against it in my opinion (subtle moments were diluted when the actors were playing to the balcony).
As much as I love this show, I’m happy to see this production sunset. I’m intrigued to see it restaged somewhere completely fresh (there was a totally different German production – but even I baulked at sitting through 6.5+ hrs of German theatre). At least the L.A. cast have recently recorded the show in audio form for Audible – it’ll be worth a listen.
Some Like It Hot ★★★★★
I landed in New York on a Monday night, usually a dark night for Broadway theatres. Thankfully the new musical Some Like It Hot was playing, so I dropped my bags and went straight to Times Square to see this new show (co-incidentally it also has a book by Matthew Lopez of The Inheritance).
This is a proper Broadway show, and probably my favourite show of the whole trip. Tap dancing, big jazzy tunes, slapstic comedy and a progressive message of trans-acceptance – this is Broadway using its “soft power” to progress the conversation around gender and the trans community at a time when we need it the most.
Lopez and Amber Ruffin have reworked the story of the film into a more progressive piece, while loading it up with comedy. The tunes are classic Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (literally, they reuse a number from the TV show Smash).
Broadway stallwart Christian Borle and J. Harrison Ghee star as Joe & Jerry – two musicians on the run from the mob. To hide they pretend to be women (Josephine & Daphne) and join an all-female band touring across the country. Adrianna Hicks steps into Marilyn Munroe’s shoes as singer Suger that Joe falls in love with.
The film, beloved as it is, is problematic in a modern light. Both for its jokes about “cross-dressing” and for Joe’s cohersive seduction of Sugar. The stage show corrects these issues with ease and surprising nuance for a big musical-comedy.
I’m just annoyed there isn’t a recording of the music yet, I’ve had the tune of the song “Some Like it Hot” in my head for weeks.
Take Me Out ★★★★
Baseball drama, Take Me Out, won a stash of Tony Awards this year (including Best Revival) and thankfully it came back for a limited run so I could catch it. I wasn’t familiar with the play, other than the fact it was lauded and there was controversy over photos of the cast naked being leaked online.
And there is a LOT of nudity, more than I expected and it was quite shocking really. The sight of nearly a dozen men showering on a Broadway stage veered close to being gratuitous (if it weren’t for the commentary about the teams closeness and vulnerability).
Walking some morally grey lines, and refusing to present even the worst of its characters as purely villains, it’s clear to see why Take Me Out (in all its major productions) has been an awards winner. People may be talking about the nudity, but the writing is maybe the most bare thing on that stage.
Kimberly Akimbo ★★★
One of the shows I was most looking forward to was the new musical by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, Kimberly Akimbo. I deliberately went into this one blind, booking on the track-record of the creatives alone (I mean, Tesori’s Caroline or Change and Fun Home are two of my favourite musicals).
The show centres on a teenager suffering from progeria, a condition that forces her to age at four times a natural rate. Kimberly may only be on the verge of turning 16, but she looks middle aged. Kimberly isn’t expected to live much past 16, so she decides now is the time to take some big chances.
Look, the show is cute. It’s charming. It has strong “quirky, indie film at Sundance” vibes and the lead performance by Victoria Clark is absolutely winning (she’s got the Tony nomination wrapped up). Around Kimberly there is a really screwed up family, and a friendship with another teen that makes you incredibly happy-sad.
Maybe it was my high expectations, but I found the musical to be incredibly slight. The ending fell flat for me, and the tunes didn’t really register in my mind once I walked out the door.
I definitely feel like I’m in the minority as the rest of the audience was cheering by the end, and the buzz around the TKTS booth all week was about how it’s a ‘must-see’. We’ll see how it fares.
Into The Woods ★★★★★
Sondheim’s Into The Woods is one of my all-time favourites but oddly I’d only ever seen smaller productions of it (one in London’s Regent’s Park Theatre, and an acclaimed Off-Broadway version at the Menier Chocolate Factory) so I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see it on Broadway with an all-star cast.
And what a cast of Broadway superstars! Stephanie J Block, Brian D’Arcy James, Gavin Creel, Andy Karl, Krysta Rodriguez and Ann Harada! This is dream casting for me.
The show didn’t disappoint. Sung to perfection with beautiful staging, it was as enchanting as it should be. Stephanie J Block especially just blew me away. This is the kind of show I live for… Belvoir has big shoes to fill in 2023!
Phantom of the Opera ★★★
With Phantom ending its 35 year on Broadway next year, it felt like time to finally see it in New York. I’d seen it in London, and then again on Sydney Harbour (epic but I was drenched by the rain!) and, compared to that outdoor extravaganza, the Broadway production felt… small. My favourite number, “Masquerade”, lacked a bit of scale in comparison.
But this is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best score and it soars when its presented with full voice. Maybe it’s time for it to close and make way for newer shows but there is still charm to the ol’ girl that was worth seeing.
A Strange Loop ★★★★★
I’d heard a lot of buzz around A Strange Loop, and it did with both the Tony and the Pulitzer, so you know its doing something right. What I didn’t expect was for it to be so boldly black and queer (yes I know thats the whole point of the show, but still).
Michael R Jackson’s show (he wrote the book and the music & lyrics) is defiant in its refusal to make itself less than it is. Taking swipes at Disney and filmmaker Tyler Perry, I was shocked they got away with it. And the lyrics… look if ‘gay’ stuff makes you in the slightest way uncomfortable then this show will not be for you. Numbers about gay sex abound from the desire for it, to the complexities of racial fetishes.
With so many revivals and ‘safe bets’ on Broadway, the fact A Strange Loop can thrive proves Broadway has some life it in yet! As for me, my inner white-girl and I loved it!
The Music Man ★★
On my last night I was faced with a dilemma, a Sophie’s Choice if you will. Do I see Lea Michelle and Ramin Karimloo in the much-talked about Funny Girl, or do I see Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in The Music Man. To be honest, I’m not a fan of either show – but the lure of Sutton Foster won me over. So I put down more cash than I’m comfortable admitting and headed off to the Winter Garden to see “Our Hugh” and my number one Broadway diva.
And Sutton Foster was off that night!
Reader, I was furious! Furious!! And before you ask, no they hadn’t announced her absence in advance.
Look, Hugh is very charismatic but his singing voice is nasal and grating, and The Music Man is very old fashioned and twee. I regret my decision (even though I’d heard nothing but bad things about the production of Funny Girl. Everyone raved about Michele’s performance but say the production is poor). Foster’s understudy was perfectly good, the production was fine… but I was just mad.
So I still have never seen Sutton Foster live! Not yet anyway…. not yet…
So that’s 10 shows (The Inheritance is technically two plays) in two weeks, seven of them seen in five days in New York. And plenty more I wanted to see if I’d had the time… well, it leave something for a trip next year I hope.
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