Friday, May 18, 2007

SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Musicals

SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Musicals

During the 2006-07 Theatrical Season, I took in twelve different revivals of musicals from here to London. In fact, I even managed to see two very distinct revivals of the time-honored classic Gypsy -- one at Chicagoland's Ravinia and the other in Minneapolis.

Among that dozen were some real gems. Here's my personal "5 Best" list of the musical revivals that thrilled me over the past twelve months:

1 - Evita (Adelphi Theatre, London, United Kingdom)

To see the best revival of the past year, I had to fly across the Atlantic and visit London. Michael Grandage's West End revival of Evita is unequivocally stunning. I absolutely adored this high-flying, soaring production. Credit Grandage's direction and choreographer Rob Ashford with once again revitalizing a musical in a most breathtaking, dazzling manner.

Making her spectacular West End debut is an astonishing Argentine talent, Elena Roger, who offers an exceptionally nuanced performance as Eva Peron. The compact Roger evolves right before your eyes from the flirtatious young girl seeking her ticket to Buenos Aires stardom to her role alongside Juan Peron to a physically and emotionally impaired invalid. And what a powerful, beautiful voice! Philip Quast brings a deceptively steely charm to his characterization of strongman Juan Peron epitomizing why he and Eva would be "surprisingly good" for one another.

Add to all of this the newly syncopated rhythms offered by David Cullen's lush new orchestrations (particularly in songs like "Buenos Aires") for what is arguably Andrew Lloyd Webber's best score, along with a breathtaking set design by Christopher Oram, and the result is one of the most stellar evenings of live theatre I've enjoyed over the past twelve months. It left me on a proverbial "Rainbow High."

Click here for The SOB Review of Evita.

2 - Gypsy (Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL)

It seemed entirely apropos that this concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s seminal classic Gypsy -- co-written, of course, by Jule Styne and Arthur Laurents -- would be stripped down to the basic essentials. But with theatre legend Patti LuPone in the lead role of Mama Rose, this Gypsy proved to be anything but bare. This is the role LuPone was born to play.

Instead of an over-the-top Mama that's all too easy to do, LuPone proffered an exquisitely nuanced performance that simultaneously excited and repulsed, making one of Broadway’s most memorable roles hers for keeps. LuPone commanded the stage without overpowering it.

Near the end, LuPone took her devastated Rose to new heights with an unforgettable, heart-wrenched rendering of “Rose’s Turn,” which proved to be, quite literally, a showstopper of the first order. A most affectionate audience interrupted with a long, sustained standing ovation. Given how mesmerizing her performance was in Gypsy, it's no wonder that New York City Center Encores! is ensuring a wider audience this July. Go see this show!

Click here for The SOB Review of Gypsy.

3 - Mame (The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theatre, Washington, DC)

The Kennedy Center's spirited revival of Mame had an exuberant brilliance that glistened throughout. Director Eric Schaeffer expertly moved this musical's story along almost as quickly as Christine Baranski's costume changes. The heart and soul of this show, of course, came from Jerry Herman's beguiling score and book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Warren Carlyle's intricate choreography from one of the show's earliest moments on "It's Today" let you know that this was going to be one heck of a ride.

In a bravura performance, Baranski more than commanded the stage, capturing Mame's "live, live, live" essence with gusto. The queen of perfect timing, Baranski asserted herself, whether in delivering a comic line or providing a deadpan look or hoofing it with the best of them. Coupled with a gorgeous singing voice, this multi-talented actress possessed the charm, wit and poise to make hers a most triumphant and confident Mame.

Mame proved a feast for the senses and anyone who wanted to relive the glory of old-fashioned musical genius. More importantly, Mame provided a celebration of tolerance and the most American of ideals: the pursuit of happiness. It's just a shame this production never found its way to Broadway.

Click here for The SOB Review of Mame.

4 - Company (Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York, NY)

Company is director John Doyle's latest Broadway revival of a Stephen Sondheim musical to employ actors doubling as musicians (or is it the other way around?). Regardless, packed with some of my favorite Stephen Sondheim tunes and some riveting performances, I was mesmerized. This revival certainly deserves a much wider audience than it's currently attracting.

I was struck by the inventive and symbolic ways Doyle isolates Bobby, played by a breathtakingly real Raúl Esparza, who sings angelically. Even the elegant simplicity of David Gallo's set design with its ingenious ice cube boxes underscores the cold reality of Bobby's isolation.

In Company, Esparza soars to spine-tingling new musical heights. In the climax when finally taking a seat at the piano, his Bobby is ready to join the human race in a way he's never before experienced. Ultimately, Esparza's finely calibrated performance melted his way into my heart. I can't think of any actor I've seen on the Broadway stage this past year who is more deserving of a Tony Award than he -- this is one performance no serious musical theatre lover can afford to miss.

Click here for The SOB Review of Company.

5 - Mother Courage And Her Children (Delacorte Theater, New York, NY)

One thing was certain in the stunning, if sometimes uneven, Tony Kushner adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage And Her Children. It provided so many surprises on so many creative levels that it was hard to believe that this was a free production. Kushner served up an astoundingly humorous and disarmingly musical depiction of how and why ordinary people support war. Thanks in part to the direction of George C. Wolfe, Mother Courage And Her Children resonated with ample allegories to America’s own ongoing, seemingly endless military conflicts in an altogether human, profoundly personal fashion.

At its best, the show was breathtakingly excellent. But given the sheer enormity of the production, there were long pauses where the show was disjointedly incoherent, and its often heavy-handed demagoguery sometimes backfired in a surprising fashion.

Not surprising was how easily Meryl Streep could captivate, thus making the three-hour running time breeze by. Indeed, whenever this icon of American acting brilliance was on the stage, she firmly held command. Given the complexity of her title character, there are few actresses who could pull off the phenomenal feat Streep accomplished. And did I mention she can sing? No wonder she's been tapped for the upcoming silver screen version of Mamma Mia!

Click here for The SOB Review of Mother Courage And Her Children.

Honorable Mentions:

Despite the number of musical revivals I saw over the past year, only one merits an honorable mention:

  • Carousel (Southern Theatre, Minneapolis, MN) -- Director Ben Krywocz largely succeeded in this charming, yet elegantly austere Nautilus Music Theater revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Nearly every element that makes this a visually arresting reinvention comes from the performances themselves, derived from one of the best scores from the canon of the legendary songwriting duo as well as from the gracefully balletic choreography of Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan. This Carousel spins best when the entire ensemble takes to the stage. Given the abundance of truly stunning talent, it’s hard to believe you’re actually watching the work of a frugal theatre company. (Click here for The SOB Review of Carousel)

What were the best revivals of musicals you saw over the past year? I invite you to join the conversation by sharing your theatre experiences with me.

Also, don't forget to vote for the shows you believe will win in each of the four major Tony Award categories: Best Musical, Best Play, Best Revival of a Musical and Best Revival of a Play. You'll find all four polls on the right-hand side of Steve On Broadway.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for Company tickets.
Click here for Evita tickets (playing through May 26).
Click here for Gypsy tickets.
Related Stories:
SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Plays (May 16, 2007)
The SOB Five "Worst" Of 2006-07 (May 14, 2007)
SOB's Best & Worst Of 2006-07 Theatre Season (May 14, 2007)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #1 - Theater Of The New Ear (May 30, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #2 – Guys And Dolls (May 26, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #3 – Hedda Gabler (May 25, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #4 – A Blameless Life (May 24, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #5 – Reeling (May 23, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #6 – “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys (May 21, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #7 – Love Song (May 19, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #8 - Billy Elliot The Musical (May 18, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #9 - The Well-Appointed Room (May 17, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #10 - Sweeney Todd (May 15, 2006)
SOB's Best and Worst of 2005-06 Theatre Season (May 12, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2004-05 (May 26, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2003-04 (May 25, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2002-03 (May 25, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2001-02 (May 24, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2000-01 (May 23, 2006)

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At 20 May, 2007, Blogger Slay said...

Ravinia has some real gems from time to time. I saw Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris in "Sunday in the Park with George" there a couple years ago. It was one of the best shows I've ever seen. I couldn't believe it. Come to think of it, I think Patti Lupone was in that one too. Yes, I found info on it right here.

At 20 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Slay, I couldn't agree with you more about Ravinia. They even took Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle and turned it into a pretty terrific evening of entertainment, despite the fact that the original production with Angela Lansbury from 1964 only enjoyed nine regular performances.

Like the other Ravinia concert adapatation you mentioned, Anyone Can Whistle also included McDonald, Cerveris and LuPone. It certainly says something about Ravinia that these great artists keep returning.

At 22 May, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

I'm really disappointed that Evita won't make it to New York. The London revival sounds amazing. I love the music, but I've never seen it on stage, only the movie. I guess at this point, it doesn't look like a Broadway revival is in the cards!

At 22 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Have you heard something definitively about Evita not going to Broadway? Although I would agree with an assessment that its premature closing in London doesn't bode well for a Broadway transfer, I haven't heard anything certain yet.


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