Broadway in May

This past weekend found me in New York beholding exceptional performances on Broadway. Nobody would place On the Twentieth Century on their list of great musicals: it offers nothing but pure entertainment, perhaps a deliberate throwback to the lighthearted musicals of the 30s. The plot is paper thin, the music not particularly notable, and the book, while well-crafted, won’t become immortal in literature. The performances, on the other hand, sparkled, both from Kristin Chenoweth (in superb voice notwithstanding poor health) and Peter Gallagher, plus a quartet of tap-dancing Red Caps (does anybody remember Red Caps?). Great fun of the old-fashioned variety.

Helen Mirren exists beyond any honors in The Audience, which has a more comic (that’s right, comic) substance than one would expect. Mirren has impeccable timing, and Peter Morgan constructed the play solidly. They had even updated the segment for David Cameron to reflect the most recent elections (in Morgan’s version he bores the monarch to snores).

The King and I holds up remarkably well. Barlet Sher’s staging has some very grand effects, and having only known the movie version, I came to appreciate the original. The songs and pacing work much better (I’ve read Margaret Landon’s biography of Anna Leonowens, and it’s well worth a look). To see and hear Kelli O’Hara in person was an wonderful treat. She deserves all the praise she receives. Ken Watanabe was terrific, of course, but another star flies a little under the radar: Robert Russell Bennett, whose exceptional counterpoint brings Rodgers’ music to life, aided by the expertly tuned pit orchestra at the Vivian Beaumont.

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