It’s over. Three weeks of non-stop travel, rehearsal for the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus pride concert and putting out a massive double issue at work are finally over. Surprisingly, I don’t have too many reviews to catch up on! But here’s the ones I need to catch up:
I was a bit late to the party, but—much to my own surprise—this absolutely gets my vote as best new musical of the 2007-2008. I’ll go into that more in my pre-Tonys write-up, but song/bookwriter Stew, despite his protestations of how he wants to eschew the musical theatre form, has created the most human, touching journey to hit a Broadway house this year. As stale as the “finding yourself” journey can be as material for a show—and none of what Stew’s autobiographical youth (the equally Tony-worthy Daniel Breaker) is particularly earth-shattering—“Passing Strange” and its protean ensemble give it the urgency and authenticity that it seems like a fresh concept. There's not a weak link among the ensemble, but special mention should go to Eisa Davis as the youth's mother, who manages to make a three-word line--"I love you"--into a an upsettingly gut-wrenching moment. Given what I had heard, I was prepared to appreciate, but not particularly like, this show. How wrong I was. I also was fortunate enough to attend a close-captioned performers, so I didn’t miss a syllable of the largely smart lyrics.
No, No Nanette
Why am I even mentioning this limited-run Encores! production that is long gone? Because it really needs a transfer, that’s why. What an absolutely lovely performance of an unabashedly dusty play. Beth Leavel channeled Judy Garland to the point of eeriness, Michael Berresse gave his best triple-threat performance since “Kiss Me, Kate” and Sandy Duncan—well, let’s just make a deal. If this can’t transfer, find Ms. Duncan something to do on Broadway soon, yes? Loved that she used her Playbill bio to finally put that glass eye rumor to rest, too.
Angels in America: The Opera
I rarely mention the things I see out of town, but I feel I should give mention to the premiere of “Angels in America: The Opera” by the Fort Worth Opera, which I saw in late May. First of all: Kudos to the company for taking on and, for the most part, excelling at this challenging piece. The cast did it justice, so my following criticisms are no reflection on them. That being said, Hungarian composer Peter Eotvos has condensed Tony Kushner’s modern masterpiece to a two-and-a-half hour opera that remains true to the spirit of the source and offers a few stunning moments, but largely, is far too muddled to ever stand on its own. The atonal, Schoenberg-esque yet almost conversational music fits the dialogue but is just too alienating after a long period of time, making the entire show non-stop tension with no release. As one patron a few rows behind me remarked at intermission, “I want an aria!” The structure is also problematic. While the “Millennium Approaches” segment sets up the various storylines perfectly, the truncated “Perestroika” segment nips them all, dedicating most of the second half to Prior’s dream. Other characters largely disappear and the key plot point of WHY Prior was able to survive also is omitted. In other words, the whole opera would be befuddling to anyone without a working knowledge of the source material, making this opera a nice footnote to it, but ultimately, not much else.