Though the first few weeks of the fall semester are teeming with activity — shopping, drinking, unpacking — the undergraduate theater scene remains, alas, dormant. This situation does, however, provide Yalies who yearn for a theater fix to expand their search to some of the fantastic dramatic offerings only a short Metro-North ride away. This is also a great excuse to spend a day exploring the New York theater scene before academic commitments and your dwindling bank account make such a trip impossible. In this spirit, scene presents a selection of six of the best Broadway has to offer this season. We’ll return next week with performing and fine arts that can be enjoyed with only a short walk or cab ride from campus.
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”
This fantastically entertaining black comedy revolves around the founding (and only) member of a fictitious IRA splinter group who flies off the deep end when his only love — his pet cat — is killed. His homecoming to bury his cat on the small island of Inishmore, his encounter with IRA goons and an artfully shocking bloodbath form the bedrock of the play. The show’s set design and special effects are breathtaking, and its acting is superb. The protagonist, David Wilmot, helps the show fully congiel, but Domhnall Gleeson and Peter Gerety, who play the feline fan’s neighbor and father, respectively, steal the show as they angst over breaking news of the cat’s death to Wilmot’s character and debate division of labor while dismembering a body. Foul-mouthed Irish vernacular merely ices this cake. Fans of last year’s “Phaedra’s Love” or any film by Quentin Tarantino will love this show. Though the current run of the show ended on Sunday, another run would certainly not be unheard of or poorly received.
For audience members who like their Sondheim a touch more morbid than “Into the Woods,” this new reworking of the classic musical abandons elaborate sets and costuming in favor of a clean, simple performance that showcases a tremendously talented cast. In addition to singing, acting and moving a simple coffin and chairs to create different settings, each member of the 10-person cast also plays an instrument, removing the need for an orchestra or even a conductor. Anyone who’s ever performed on stage — or marched with the YPMB — will appreciate the buckets of talent (and blood) that this cast relies upon to tell the story of a disgruntled ex-barber, Sweeney Todd (Michael Cerveris), and his meat-pie-making landlady (Patti LuPone), who join forces to take revenge on the powerful judge who ruined Todd’s life. This performance may be more “artsy” than most shows currently running on Broadway, but the overall effect is aurally and visually stunning. Despite the set’s simplicity, its back wall, a high set of shelves cluttered with objects that are delicately illuminated to highlight specific moments in the show, combines with a brilliant lighting design to gather and direct the audience’s focus to the strong performance taking place on center stage. Though this show too closed on Sunday, fret not. Rumors abound that Tim Burton is currently working on a film adaptation starring Johnny Depp that will be released late next year.
“The Wedding Singer”
Turning an Adam Sandler movie into a Broadway musical may sound like a terrible idea, but the songs crafted for this lighthearted musical are the musical-theater equivalent of crack — frighteningly addictive. The main character, Robbie (played by Stephen Lynch), isn’t remarkable, but his love interest, Julia (Laura Benanti), has a remarkable pop voice that fits her solos perfectly. While wonderfully entertaining with several large dance numbers and songs that will keep you humming for hours, the humor in “The Wedding Singer” stems mostly from ‘80s references. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the movie-cum-musical, the character of “George” (Kevin Cahoon) was transformed from a comedic character (because of his oddity and continued imitation of Boy George) into a two-dimensional and mildly offensive gay joke. If you can stomach swimming through a crowd of 15-year-old boys and tourists who usually wouldn’t think of setting foot inside a theater that doesn’t serve popcorn and liters of cola you’ll love it. “Rent” it’s not, but “Wedding Singer” is certainly worth seeing and will run until at least the end of the year.
“Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me”
In an attempt to ridicule the masturbatory theatrical genre of the one-man show, Martin Short has returned to Broadway in a faux-autobiographical showcase. Though certainly not destined (or even intended) to become a classic work of theater, Short’s brand of humor is undeniably entertaining and witty. In addition, the talented quartet of comedians who accompany his performance do a fantastic job of entertaining the audience for the ten minutes when Short is not on stage. Though the show moves at a fast, arguably frenetic, pace and has a number of jokes that fall flat, there’s so much material in the 95-minute show that there’s almost always an acceptable joke to laugh at. Fans of Martin Short’s many movies or of his now-defunct Comedy Central show’s character Jiminy Glick will love “Fame Becomes Me.” This show will run through the end of January. of next year.
“The Drowsy Chaperone”
Fans of classical musicals will embrace this show with open arms, while Yalies who aren’t avowed “musical theater dorks” may have a more difficult time engaging with this “Chaperone.” This show centers on a lonely, bookish and vaguely British man (Bob Martin), who guides the audience through the story of his favorite musical of the 1920s, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Despite creative storytelling and inspired set and costume design, the absence of catchy or remotely memorable songs forces the weight of the show on the musical’s characters, who, like the narrator, are sadly far too two-dimensional. The high cost of tickets for the show (even discount tickets at the TKTS booth were over $70) only caps an underwhelming theatrical experience. “The Drowsy Chaperone” did, however, win five Tony Awards (voted on by, of course, musical theater nerds) and will run until February.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”
Though not a new addition to Broadway, this highly entertaining show about a bunch of misfit contestants in a middle school spelling bee is still going strong. In a move that sparked the recent trend of audience participation in New York theater, “Spelling Bee” invites three lucky audience members to round out the group of contestants, so if you’re lucky, you might even get a moment onstage at a performance. Of the musicals currently running on Broadway, this show has arguably the strongest — and wittiest — song selection, with numbers ranging from “My Friend, the Dictionary,” an ode to a lonely girl’s closest friend, to “I Speak Six Languages,” the most entertaining self-promotion ever put into song, to “M.U.E.,” a pre-teen boy’s lament over his unpredictable priapism. The talented cast manages to convincingly play characters almost twenty years younger while captivating the audience’s attention and empathy. Minute for minute, this show is perhaps the most entertaining musical on Broadway. It runs until the end of this year.