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Theater Digest - November 1, 2022
New thoughts on To Kill a Mockingbird at the Pantages
Hello theater lovers!
I’m Katie, and I see a lot of theater! Currently, I’m seeing 0-2 shows a week, depending on my schedule. I do my best to include the Covid protocol for in-person shows, but things change rapidly, so if you decide to see something, please double check what the protocol are before you arrive at the theater!
As a rule, I won't be talking about any Disney/Fox/Hulu shows. Since this newsletter is geared towards people in the entertainment industry, there's a good chance I won't like a show that you or someone you know was involved in. I'm sure that you/your friend put a lot of effort into your/their work! I've been in a few shows, I know how much work goes into putting on a show. But just as you're entitled to dislike TV shows your friends worked on, I'm allowed to dislike theater you/your friends may have worked on. I try not to be vindictive, but I also do make it clear when I don't think a show is worth the price of a ticket or the time spent watching it.
I won't be writing much/any synopsis in these blurbs, but feel free to check out other reviews for synopses! Or just check out other reviews in general! Keep theater journalism alive & well!
Each week, I'll remove everything that’s closed, and put ** next to anything that’s new!
Six on tour, on Broadway [NY], and on the West End [London]. I’ve been wanting to see Six for a few years now, and contented myself with listening to the West End cast recording many, many times (the show recently won Best Score at the 2022 Tony Awards). The show is an 80 minute pop concert by King Henry VIII’s wives, singing for your empathy. Each woman has a different perspective on her marriage and why it ended (only half of them survived their marriages). The songs are so catchy and fun and clever, and you can tell the cast are having a blast singing them. For most of the show, I had the widest grin on my face—it’s a joy to watch something fun, performed at a really high level. The show also packs an emotional punch in the back half, which lands. I brought my history nerd dad with me to the show, and he liked it a lot too; it’s the rare pop musical that works just as well for a Beyonce or Ariana Grande fan as it does for the types of people who sought out and enjoyed The Lehman Trilogy. Which isn’t to say that that’s a Venn diagram of two distinct circles—people contain multitudes! But you know what I’m saying. To stereotype, it’s a show both teen girls and their erudite fathers will enjoy. Six is a delight of a show, the perfect pick for when you want a fun night out at the theater.
Open-ended runs on Broadway and the West End. Coming to the Pantages in April.
NY & London Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks encouraged.
A Strange Loop on Broadway [NY] (reviewed in DC in December 2021). As a general rule, I try not to listen to a cast recording of a show before I see it, but when seemingly everyone I follow on Twitter was raving about this cast recording when it came out last summer, I gave it a listen, and then I gave it a dozen more listens, and I’m so glad I did. This is a revelatory new work from composer & writer Michael R. Jackson that illustrates how a young, fat, Black, queer composer & writer navigates the world. It’s introspective and self-aware, which is not a combination that I typically love (I am, for example, decidedly not a fan of [title of show]), but Jackson really is a voice demanding to be heard. His tunes are undeniably catchy, and his lyrics have a specificity that is laugh-out-loud funny, provocative, and heartbreaking. In all honesty, I will admit that I did not care for the second half of the show, but I am fairly certain that that is Jackson’s intention, which underscores his brilliance as a writer. It takes boldness to push away an audience, knowing that you’ll pull them right back in before the finale.
Closes in NY January 15.
Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks encouraged.
Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas and London [Vegas/London]. Both of these shows are quite fun, and the show’s writers (none officially credited, but they seem to be Channing Tatum & Lyndsay Hailey) have done a great job of creating a non-sleazy environment and a relatable guide in the emcee. The choreography (by Alison Faulk, Teresa Espinosa, and Luke Broadlick) is also astounding. There are some differences between the Vegas and London stagings, with each being tailored to both the different performance spaces and the casts, and I have to admit, I didn’t love the emcee I saw in London (and the British audience was also pretty rude, talking throughout the show), but all in all, it’s an entertaining and empowering night.
Open-ended run in Vegas and London.
Vegas Covid protocol: Indoor venue with close proximity to (unmasked, vaccinated) performers. Proof of vaccination or recent (within 72 hours) negative test required. Masks required at all times.
London Covid protocol: Indoor venue with close proximity to (unmasked) performers. Unclear if proof of vaccination or negative test is required. Unclear if masks are required.
A Mixed Bag:
**To Kill a Mockingbird at the Pantages [LA]. I haven’t revisited this book since I read it in 7th grade, and I think, just based on watching this show, it’s a text about which I have complicated feelings. It’s an emotionally loaded story about Black trauma, told from the point of view of well-intentioned white people, and I think both Harper Lee’s autobiographical character and Aaron Sorkin, who adapted the novel into a three hour play, have similar instincts about how to tell this story, but it’s worth questioning why framing this story from a white girl’s perspective is the framing that white audiences have deemed a classic. It’s a question that only becomes more urgent at the end of the play, when the disparity in the treatment of Tom Robinson and Arthur Radley by both the law and the community at large is alarming. I can’t say I was fond of the acting of the performers playing Scout or Atticus, but as a whole, the production is competent. It won’t be the best thing you see this year, but it won’t be the worst, either.
Closes Nov. 27 in LA; runs Dec 27-Jan 8 in Costa Mesa.
LA Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks encouraged.
Hadestown on tour and on Broadway [NY]. Keen readers and/or longtime subscribers might notice I’ve moved this up from “Not Worth It” to “A Mixed Bag.” As much as it is possible for one to be objectively right or wrong about art, I am likely objectively wrong about Hadestown. Subjectively, though, I don’t love it as much as everyone else I know does. I stand by what I previously wrote about the show, but after a second viewing with a different cast, I’ll admit that when the songs are good, they soar. The touring ensemble is outstanding, and Nathan Koci’s music direction makes the good songs simultaneously lush and crisp. But I’m still troubled by the songs that are too high or too low for male voices, particularly Orpheus’ “Epic” and its reprises, and Hades’ “Hey, Little Songbird,” respectively. Acting moments that I chalked up to quirks of Reeve Carney’s performance I now realize are blocking choices, presumably from director Rachel Chavkin, that come across as affected, even on Nicholas Barasch, playing the same role. I’m also troubled in a way I’m not quite capable of articulating to see Levi Kreis play Hermes, a role that seemed expressly written for André De Shields. That’s not to say that no one else can play the role, and Kreis is a phenomenal performer, but dialogue and mannerisms in De Shields’s performance make me feel uneasy in Kreis’. Even on a second viewing, despite familiarity with the myths of Orpheus & Eurydice and Hades & Persephone, I still struggle to follow the plot, which feels piecemeal to me. But perhaps my mind is preternaturally disposed to wander during this show. Most of these quibbles are to say, feel free to disregard me, since many many people love this show and I am a lone voice of dissent! (But if you also didn’t love the show, know you’re not alone!)
Open-ended run in NY.
NY Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks encouraged.
Come From Away on the West End [London] (reviewed in LA in December 2018). My expectations going into this were pretty low, and the show exceeded them, but it didn’t win me over. The story is good, but because 9/11 plays such an important role in it, it’s at odds with the musical form. Also, the songs weren’t that good. The music was passable, but the lyrics were poor, over-relying on rhyming couplets, and, failing that, leaving lone lines to land with a thud. The book (the scenes between songs) was charming enough, and the whole thing was well-directed and -acted, but I couldn’t get into it. The book, music, and lyrics are all credited to the same two writers, so it’s hard to separate out individual elements.
This is set up at eOne, and a filmed version is available to stream on Apple TV+.
Closes Jan. 7 in London.
London Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks encouraged.
& Juliet on Broadway [NY] and the West End [London]. This is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet from Juliet’s perspective, set to a catalogue of songs written by Swedish pop maestro Max Martin, including “Teenage Dream,” “I Want It That Way,” and “Since U Been Gone.” If you’re the kind of person who looks at the track listing and has sung at least 75% of the songs in the show at karaoke, you’ll probably love & Juliet. It’s very fun, but, much like a Max Martin song, it falls apart the more you try and think about it (indeed, it’s cringeworthy to hear a professional actress sing, with perfect diction, “Now that I’ve become who I really are”). The cast’s accents are an incomprehensible melange, and I’m personally not a fan of the Tumblr-meets-Ed Hardy aesthetic the show has going on (it’s certainly… a choice), but it’s the kind of show that makes it easy to forget your troubles. I did feel that the way it addressed the non-binary character in the script was pretty clueless (i.e. continually using lyrics with female pronouns to describe a character who is trying to make clear that they’re neither male nor female), and overall, the creative team is regrettably not representative of the characters they’re showcasing on stage.
Open-ended run in London; in previews on Broadway.
Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Unclear if proof of vaccination or negative test is required. Masks not required.
The Play That Goes Wrong off-Broadway and on the West End [NY/London]. There are some really funny moments in this show, but it's too long, even at two hours, including intermission. I wish it had been 80 minutes, sans intermission.
Open-ended runs in New York and London.
My review for Stage Raw here.
London Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Unclear if proof of vaccination or negative test is required. Masks not required.
NY Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Proof of full vaccination (but not booster) required for patrons 12 and up. Masks required at all times.
On my radar:
The Music Man on Broadway
Into the Woods on Broadway
Funny Girl on Broadway
Back to the Future on the West End
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