Theater Digest - October 4, 2022
New thoughts on Come Fall in Love at the Old Globe.
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.
Open-ended run in NY.
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:
**Come Fall in Love - The DDLJ Musical at the Old Globe [San Diego]. This world premiere, with an eye towards Broadway, might not be the next Tony Award winner for Best Musical, but it’s still a good time! An adaptation of the hit 1995 Indian movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and directed by the same director, Aditya Chopra, Come Fall in Love is a love story set in the U.S., Europe, and India, tracking Rog (Austin Colby) and Simran (Shoba Narayan) as they meet, fall in love, and face the reality of Simran’s upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s friend. The show is propulsive, with vivacious musical numbers (the titular track and “Better Get Right” are standouts) interspersed with a few duds (“Like You But Not That Way” and its reprise suck all the air out of the room). The lyrics and book, by Nell Benjamin)can be cringeworthy (there are songs called “Party and Spend Daddy’s Money” and “Hot and Independent and Hot," and at one point, a character says “Ooh! A new Wordle!”), and the original songs by Vishal Dadlani and Sheykhar Ravjiani don’t seem suited for eight performances a week. At the Saturday evening performance I attended, I could hear vocal strain across the ensemble that I attribute to the score sitting too high, rather than any fault of the performers. The show really shines in its moments of physical comedy, which bring a fresh energy to the plot. This adaptation does make the choice to change the character of Raj, who in the movie was played by the legendary Shah Rukh Khan, to Rog, a white American, and that decision has led to a lot of worthwhile discussion that I can’t speak to (I recommend reading this piece from the NY Times to learn more). All in all, the show is preposterous, predictable, and a little bit camp, but most of all, it’s a lot of fun.
Closes Oct. 23 in San Diego.
Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks encouraged.
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe at the Mark Taper Forum [LA]. Your opinion of this solo performance will likely be determined by your opinion of Cecily Strong. Personally, prior to seeing this show, I found her skilled, but not thrilling, and spending 96 minutes with her here reinforces that assessment. Strong is adept at differentiating the varied characters from this 1985 text, written by Jane Wagner for her now-wife, Lily Tomlin. But I was missing that spark, that It quality you feel in the presence of a star. Wagner’s text, half-heartedly updated for 2022, is full of bon mots, lines you might highlight in a dog-eared paperback—or write on a sticky note. The writing is reminiscent of Wendy Wasserstein, Nancy Meyers, or Nora Ephron, skillfully portraying (or lampooning) white Yuppie women born during the years following World War II. That kind of writing can feel like a security blanket, compelling you to rewatch When Harry Met Sally each fall, but here, there’s only occasional comfort in Wagner’s proficiency (despite the short runtime, the play drags). Director Leigh Silverman, Strong, and Wagner are all doing solid work here, but the show isn’t as transcendent as I’d hoped.
Closes Oct. 23 in LA.
Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks required at all times.
Everybody at Antaeus Theatre Company [LA]. This production is the definition of a mixed bag. When it’s great, it soars, but when it fumbles, it’s tough. Much of this, I suspect, comes from the text, an adaptation of a centuries-old play of unknown origin, which, in playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ retelling, obliterates the fourth wall. First we meet God (Cherish Monique Duke), then, Death (Anne Gee Byrd), who summons five people, randomly assigning one, a character named Everybody, to present their life story to God. At the performance I attended, Everybody was Harry Groener, a stalwart of the L.A. theater scene. The other four are cast, on the spot, in the roles of his friends, family, and belongings. Jacobs-Jenkins has a keen ear for dialogue, and the play is at its best during the more grounded conversations between two people. Groener in particular shines, imbuing Everybody with pathos, a grounding presence contrasted with the generalities in which the text intentionally traffics. And though Everyman, the English-language text Jacobs-Jenkins is adapting, is a morality play, Everybody is more of a mortality play. Jacobs-Jenkins is remarkably adept at slicing right through to the heart of humanity’s hang-ups about dying, in a way that is beautifully devasating, especially in a show that otherwise stumbles.
Closes October 17 in Glendale.
Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Proof of vaccination required. Masks required at all times.
Babe at the Echo Theater Company [LA]. This is a strange play, because I feel like it has a lot of potential, but this world premiere staging feels unfinished. The performances felt more like rehearsal than opening night, the transitions were sluggish, and the script clocked in at a slow 70 minutes, ending in a way that could be interpreted as intermission if the cast hadn’t come out for bows. But there’s a lot of interesting, exciting groundwork laid out in the interplay between an old-school record exec (played by Sal Viscuso), who’s pretty much a walking microaggression (you know the type), his colleague Abigail (Julie Dretzin), who’s done more work than she’ll ever get credit for, and Kaitlyn (Wylie Anderson), a millennial who thinks her workplace should be less toxic. It’s easy for a text like this to become a chance for Gen X and Baby Boomer characters (often a stand-in for the writer) to complain about Millennials and Gen Zers, and playwright Jessica Goldberg doesn’t do that, at least not at first. Kaitlyn does feel underdeveloped, especially since she would likely understand the importance of making compromises and how to navigate office politics by the age of 29. There’s also a subplot with Abigail and an artist she developed (also played by Anderson) which feels under-serviced. But there’s enough already in the show to get you excited about what the next iteration could be.
Closes Oct. 24 in Atwater Village.
Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Proof of vaccination required. Masks required.
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 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; coming to Broadway fall 2022.
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.
Dear Evan Hansen on tour and on the West End [London]. I originally saw this right after it opened on Broadway, and loved it then, loved it much less the second time, but I think it’s still worth seeing once, if you can afford the ticket price. If you can’t, don’t fret too much.
Feature adaptation released by Universal.
Closes Oct. 22 in London.
My original review of the Broadway production for Paste here.
My full review of the production at the Ahmanson for Stage Raw here.
Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks encouraged.
Not worth it:
Oklahoma! at the Ahmanson [LA]. I had previously had this production as “a mixed bag” when I saw it in New York in 2019, but I cared for it less at the Ahmanson. Director Daniel Fish’s staging came across this time, to me, as pseudo-intellectual and facile, landing on surface-level interpretations of subtext that were often at odds with the text itself. I genuinely wondered if Fish even likes Oklahoma!, because this staging seems ripe with disdain for the show. If he doesn’t like it, then why has he gone to such trouble to stage it multiple times over the course of many years? I appreciate that Fish is interrogating one of Broadway’s Golden Age musicals, and I wish more directors would do so, but this interpretation is confounding and unpleasant, and I can’t recommend it.
Closes Oct. 16 in LA. A British production will transfer to the West End in February.
LA Covid protocol: Indoor venue. Masks required.
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
Heroes of the Fourth Turning in D.C.
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