Friday, June 11, 2010

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best Musical Revivals

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best Musical Revivals

During the 2009-10 Theatrical Season, I've had the opportunity to see over 80 performances of a wide range of new and revived musicals and plays, as well as other theatrical events.

This year's musical revivals were, on the whole, better -- if only marginally -- than the season's new musicals, but there were some major misfires among them. Yet there were some real gems I was fortunate enough to see.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the "5 Best Musical Revivals" over the 12 months ending April 30, 2010:

5 - Ragtime (Neil Simon Theatre, New York City, New York)

Few musicals have captured the shifting American landscape inherently contained at the dawn of the 20th Century as powerfully as Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' underappreciated heartfelt musical Ragtime.

In Marcia Milgrom Dodge's genuinely moving yet short-lived new revival, Christiane Noll imbued her Mother with grace, dignity and substance. She was complemented by Bobby Steggert's brilliant performance as her younger brother.

4- A Little Night Music (Walter Kerr Theatre, New York City, New York)

Yes, Trevor Nunn's revival of Stephen Sondheim's glorious A Little Night Music was at the top of my list last year, but since the Broadway production feels so different, I'm judging this incarnation on its own. While this nearly replicated staging of the London work hardly fills the stage and could have -- should have -- been scaled appropriately upward, it mostly works because of the splendid score and ingenious storyline.

While the incandescent Catherine Zeta-Jones' megawatt star power certainly lights up the stage, albeit with a similarly forced "I'll prove to them I'm up to the challenge" moxie she demonstrated in "Chicago," it's Angela Lansbury (Madame Armfeldt) who commands the stage every time she's on it. It's pure bliss to see her return to Broadway in a musical role, and it's more than enough to land the revival on my list.

3 - Disney's Beauty And The Beast (Main Hall, Ordway Center For The Performing Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota)

Sure, the tale is as old as time. But St. Paul's Ordway made Disney's Beauty And The Beast revival seem like new again. In a surprising delight, Robert Johanson's incredibly fresh and fully-realized revival was stunning with spirited acting, boisterous singing and rousing choreography.

Jeremiah James brought exceptional depth to the role of the Beast, humanizing him with tremendous skill. The comedic triple threat Jonathan Burgard succeeded in stealing practically every scene by adding real muscle to his Gaston. They helped make this Beauty And The Beast offering a feast for the eyes to behold.

2 - La Cage Aux Folles (Longacre Theatre, New York City, New York)

Revived with unmistakable sparkle, however tarnished, by director Terry Johnson, this downsized La Cage Aux Folles is what it is. It's a solid period piece populated with men who may dress in drag, but have more guts, ironically enough, in coming to terms with who they are than their less flamboyant counterparts.

Harvey Fierstein's book and Jerry Herman's glorious tunes get to the heart of how any relationship, gay or straight, endures. And as performed by Kelsey Grammer (Georges) and Douglas Hodge (Albin), it's not only deeply moving, it's practically heartbreaking. Hodge in particular scores with his defiantly scorching rendition of "I Am What I Am."

1 - The Full Monty (McKnight Theatre, Theatre Latté Da, Ordway Center For The Performing Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota)

Last fall, I offered just two words to my dear readers: "Drop everything" to get to St. Paul to see The Full Monty. In one of those rarest of rarities, Theater Latté­ Da's excellent and thoroughly enjoyable production was actually much better than the Broadway original.

Under Peter Rothstein's exceptional, confident direction, Terrence McNally's book and David Yazbek's underrated score became even more salient, all the more gripping and certainly more entertaining today.

Rothstein's direction was a marvel unto itself. In what was his best production yet, he stripped The Full Monty down to its grittiest, barest essentials and dressed it up with one of the best ensembles I saw anywhere this past year. No wonder so many Minnesotans shook their money-makers over to the Ordway to catch this sexy, fun and uplifting Full Monty.

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

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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