One of the great things about living in Baristaville is living so close to the Great White Way. Broadway’s expensive, but there are deals throughout the year– even at the holidays. There are some added matinees too. Seeing a Broadway show with the whole family is something special. Even if the show has some holes, you can count on it being a visual treat, particularly if it’s a musical. If there are stars (hello Daniel Radcliffe!) it can be fun to wait at the stage door for them (but note: in between matinee and evening performance stars sometimes stay in the building to rest). You might have trouble getting tickets to “The Book of Mormon,” but there are other treasures to be had that are just as much fun. I had a terrific time at “Godspell” (musical), and “Seminar” (play). Leads to discount tickets are below– you can get a TKTS app for your iphone and find out what was there the day before, which can be a great predictor.
But some of the shows on discount tickets are turkeys. See “Bonnie and Clyde” only if you don’t mind predictable stories and music that stops the action (the projections are pretty). “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” is a pretty big disappointment, although some kids will enjoy the flying anyway and Bono’s music would appeal if it were reprised more often. “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins” are perennial kid-pleasers. As for “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” you’d be better off just putting on a Harry Connick, Jr. CD– making the Barbara Harris (played in the movie by Barbra Streisand) role into a gay man makes no sense at all (in a reincarnation plot that never made much sense) and the op-art sets will literally strain your eyes. There are also some great shows worth seeing off and off-off Broadway. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing “The Pirates of Penzance” by the Gilbert & Sullivan players with my family later this week.
Here are my picks, and at the end of the article I’ve offered some places to look for discount tickets and some etiquette tips I’ve learned in the trenches!
Godspell. As I said in my review, I usually prefer amateur productions to stars strutting their stuff in this sketch drama of the life of Jesus and the apostles. But this production helmed by Daniel Goldstein at Circle in the Square is creative, upbeat, entertaining and full of silly jokes that children and parents will enjoy alike. Stephen Schwarz’s music (he also did “Wicked”) is beautiful and dangerously infectious.
Lysistrata Jones. This new musical is full of kind of raunchy innuendo so reserve for teens and up (although my guess is some of the
references will go right over the little ones’ heads). Douglas Carter Beane (“As Bees in Honey Drown”) loosely retells Aristophanes’ story of Lysistrata, who got all the women of Troy to refuse sex with their men until the war is over. Here we’re in a small college, and Lysistrata, that is Lyssie (Patti Murin) is a cheerleader, and the basketball team needs some serious motivation to win. Some really dirty jokes make you think of the Good Old Days when Hollywood was bawdier than film– it’s an old-fashioned good time.
Seminar. A new play by Theresa Rebeck stars Alan Rickman (Snape!) as a condescending fiction writer conducting a private workshop for a group of 20-somethings. College and up. Rickman has never seemed so haughty and entertaining. Anyone who’s ever tried to write anything will enjoy it, but it’s just as much about growing up and being true to yourself as it is a play about artists.
The Mountaintop. This play by Katori Hall imagines Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night at a Memphis hotel, in which he interacts with a mysterious woman/waittress who is more than she seems. Star power here with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. It’s a fable, with some magic realism, and a little slight action wise, but there’s an impressive rap near the end as Basett, playing the mysterious Camae, looks into the future. Could be educational as well as entertaining, and lead to interesting discussions about American history and Civil Rights. All ages. Through Jan. 22 only.
Follies. Universal acclaim for this restaging of Sondheim’s loveletter to vaudeville, starring Bernadette Peters as one of the vaudevillians reuniting with her peers. A 28 piece orchestra and a cast of 41 lend a feel of a lost theatrical past. Great dance, great songs (“I’m Still Here”), seven Tony Awards. Through Jan. 22 only.
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Snape is in Seminar, and Harry’s in this show– but just until Jan. 3, when he’ll be replaced by “Glee’s” Darren Criss. The score by Frank Loesser ingeniously weaves in and out of Abe Burrows’ (with Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert) comical book. Director Rob Ashford wisely doesn’t add any pc values to this Mad Men era show, and you may just find yourself humming “A Secretary Is Not a Toy.” John Laroquette plays Radcliffe’s boss; he’s at least a foot taller which just keeps on being funny. If you’ve only seen the movie, you haven’t seen the show! Radcliffe dances, too!
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Who knew that a show about Australian drag queens could be so family friendly? But I swear it is; when I saw it a little girl was begging her mommy to buy her one of the hats (they aren’t for sale, but there are other sparkl things). There is a little boy who is crucial to the story. The music is an anthology of pop hits from the 70s, including “MacArthur Park” and “I Will Survive.” The costumes are out of this world, and Will Swenson as Tick/Mitzi utterly charms. It’s lightweight, it’s silly, and I’ve seen it twice. When I reviewed it for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I had to admit, I bought the mug.
Rock of Ages. 80s boy gets girl, 80s boy loses girl, 80s boy… well you get the idea. Teens and up will appreciate the 80s nostalgia which has been fashionable for years, for some reason (rubber bracelets! big hair!) and of course, if you experienced it yourself, it’s hard to resist. Ushers wearing black eyeliner serve drinks to your seat if you click your plastic lighter and everyone sings to REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t fight this feeling anymore.” Then there’s the big laugh when the boy offers the girl wine coolers.
War Horse. Still running at Lincoln Center, the life size horse puppets are just amazing. Joey the horse may have come close to death one too many times for me, but there is also live music, a grand sense of place and theatre magic. It could be interesting to compare the show and the film, especially for budding artists.
If I haven’t listed a show here, I either haven’t seen it or don’t have strong feelings about it!
Dancing at Lughnasa. Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Brian Friel’s play, 20 years since its Broadway debut, is haunting and evocative. Set in one summer in 1936 Ireland, the story of the five unmarried Mundy sisters as they struggle to make a life, only occasionally breaking free, circles in on itself to create a powerful memory piece. Extended twice, the show now runs through the end of January. Despite a narrator who plays himself at age 7 and 50-something, respectively, this sensitive play is best for older kids and teens. As I wrote in my review for New York Irish Arts, “It’s a beautiful play, given a beautiful production. And it will linger in your mind and create a memory of its own.” Hear Ciarán O’Reilly, who plays Michael, talk about the play here.
Shlemiel the First. This musical adapted by Robert Brustein from a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer runs at the NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts Center through Dec. 31 only. The story of a wise fool from the town of Chelm played in Montclair two years ago, and if you missed it then (or enjoyed it then and want to see again!) you can catch it now. The klezmer music, with lyrics by Arnold Weinsten and music by Hankus Netsky, is dynamite, as is the band led by Folksbiene’s Zalmen Mlotek. For The Forward’s Arty-Semite I wrote: Kids will laugh at the high spirited idiocy; parents will chuckle at the refrains of “gevalt” and sigh as the Shlemiels fall in love again, while believing they are cheating. All ages.
The Pirates of Penzance. Talk about your infectious music! Gilbert and Sullivan’s silly, sly book never gets old. Hail to Piracy! Sullivan’s melodies soar, and Gilbert’s puns and absurdities appeal to everyone. Derring-do, romance and absurd British humor, by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players. There’s a New Year’s Eve gala, too! Through Jan. 1. All ages.
Neighborhood Watch. A new play by Alan Ayckbourn (“The Norman Conquests”) appears at 59E59 as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival. A middle-aged brother and sister avenge the destruction of a garden gnome by forming a citizens’ committee against violence– with funny and poignant results. Teens and up. Through Jan. 1.
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. The New York Neofuturists do a hilarious sketch comedy evening that recalls the glory days of Saturday Night Live. They take audience suggestions but also have their own weird pov. Teen and up.
Sleep No More. This site-specific production from the British company Punchdrunk, loosely based on Macbeth, keeps getting extended– now it’s running through Feb. 11. It’s more like an installation with scenes than a play, per se; audience members wear masks and choose their own path in the McKittrick hotel. But teens reading Shakespeare will be enthralled as are many, many adults. Worthy of a second viewing, too. On New York Irish Arts, I compared it to the Tower of Terror in Disneyworld and warned “it’s not for the phsically weak.” Showtimes begin at 7; you can linger at the speakeasy type bar as long as you like. But put cash in your pocket; you have to check your bag.
Most of the plays and musicals at home have closed, with new ones starting in January, but you can still catch:
“A Christmas Carol.” English playwright Neil Bartlett’s adaptation is running at the Madison Shakespeare Theater. As we wrote in a round up a few weeks ago: a cast of nine actors playing more than 50 roles, including some of literature’s most beloved characters. All ages. Through Jan. 1.
TKTS, run by TDF (Theatre Development Fund), has booths in Times Square, South Street Seaport, and in Brooklyn. Though you can’t buy tickets except by standing in line, you can check out what was there the day before by using their iphone app. If you have your heart set on a particular show, then you’ll want to show up early. The line at the booth in Times Square moves quickly, and there are outdoor tables and chairs and lucite steps to sit on. If you’re more flexible, I suggest swinging in an hour or less (I often try ten minutes) and skipping the lines. Of the three booths, Times Square sells out the fastest. Yesterday there were tickets available for “Lysistrata Jones,” “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” Radio City Music Hall Christmas and, at 30% discount, “Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark.” South Street Seaport literally had three times as many, including “An Evening with Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin” and “Follies.” So if you’re wanting something more in demand, it’s worth the trek.
Discounts at the Box Office. Some sold out shows offer SRO (standing room only) at low prices (the night I saw “The Book of Mormon” there were two rows of people standing), and/or general and student rush. Worth a call if you have one in mind.
Theatermania. This theatre news site offers news and reviews; join their club and you can purchase tickets at steep discounts too. “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” lists 40% discounts today. But, the really hot shows usually aren’t here– i.e., you have a better chance of finding discounts to “Follies” at TKTS than at Theatermania.
Desperate for a particular show? You can always try craigslist. But be careful– a lot of what’s listed are really fronts for services, and there will be no savings at all. Still, you might find a legitimate person with extras to sell.
Getting there: NJ Transit has some extra trains and buses over the holidays and some discounts that make bringing the family in a little easier. The Family Super Saver Fare is in effect through Tuesday, January 3, and allows two children per family ages 5 – 11 to travel free. with any adult paying a valid fare Up to three children ages four and under travel free with a paying adult. There are some extra trains on the 30th, and on New Year’s Eve weekend– check Njtransit.com for particulars on your line. And of course, you can always drive, if you’re willing to risk the tunnels and pay the parking fees in meters and garages.
A few other random theatregoer tips:
1. Don’t arrive early to get on line outside the theatre door. There is no point. Your seats are assigned.
2. Turn your phone all the way off– sometimes even silenced phones interfere with a theatre’s sound system. The light from a phone that is on is distracting; there is no reason to text during the show. If there’s a crisis that big, don’t go to the theatre.
3. Buy bottled water outside the theatre and sneak it in unless you really enjoy paying 5-10 dollars for it. But hurray! most theatres let you take other drinks to your seat these days (some make you pay more for the adult sippy cups).
4. Don’t count on having coffee at intermission. Many theatres do not serve it. Boo. There isn’t much substantial food either. Somebody will make a fortune starting a pushcart selling sandwiches to hungry theatregoers.
5. Coat check is usually not worth it unless you have a big bag, or a big coat. It’s ok to drape the coat a little over the back of the chair, but if it’s bulky and going to be in the lap of the person behind you, better to check or hold yourself.
6. If you like the memorabilia, my advice is buy it in the lobby. Some theatre stores have some items but the selection will be smaller. I use my shrek ears headband every day when I wash my face.
7. Applaud the orchestra when they are done playing their exit music (at Shlemiel the First, people drifted down towards the pit to listen).
8. Aw come on, it’s Broadway; sing along at the encore and clap with the cast. Because…
9. …if you laugh and respond the actors feel it. I’ve worked in theatre and it’s really true that every audience is different. Be one of the good ones and feed the cast! You’ll get a better show– and have a better time. And…
10. If you do get the star’s autograph, have a pen ready! No actor, no matter how famous, ever minds being told how wonderful he is. So don’t be shy!
What have you seen (and what did you think)? Any to recommend?