After returning to work Tuesday from my recent trip to New York and Washington, I got right back into the busy Fresno culture season. But I promised to fill you in on my various adventures. My final tally in New York: seven plays and two museums. Here’s my theater recap:
MATILDA THE MUSICAL, Shubert Theatre: My favorite show of the trip. I predict that when the Tony nominations are announced Tuesday morning, this import from London will score more nominations than any other show. (I’m not exactly going out on a limb here; last year the musical won more Olivier awards, the British equivalent of the Tonys, than any show in history.) In terms of Broadway depicting children, the tone of this smart and crisp adaptation of the famed Roald Dahl book about a genius little girl with pathetic parents is different than anything I’ve seen. It makes “Annie,” the other big currently running musical about a fictional little girl, look like little more than an extended sentimental sugar high. Sentimentality does exist in in “Matilda,” but it is doled out with the severity of a nutrition-minded mom offering a small dollop of whipped cream to top off a piece of pie; the small bit that is there seems to taste even better because of its scarcity.
The show is a marvel to behold, from the beautifully crafted tiled letters that fill every square inch of the front of the theater to the percussive lighting effects. (At one point, a giant “burp” becomes tangible, thanks to the lighting design, as we watch it travel to the front of the schoolroom and right up to the nostrils of the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, played by the splendid Bertie Carvel.) The staging is a wonder. And Tim Minchin’s music and especially lyrics are so smart they almost hurt.
Back from Broadway: I was only in New York City for four nights (after arriving on a red-eye), but I managed to pack in a lot: five shows, four museums and my Columbia grad school reunion. Hey, it’s the city that never sleeps, right? I kept my Beehive Facebook readers up to date on my cultural activities, but here’s a little more detail on the shows I saw plus several museum exhibitions:
“GHOST: THE MUSICAL,” Lunt-Fontanne Theatre: I like to see shows in previews because 1) it’s easier to get tickets; and 2) it’s fun to be ahead of the curve. So I snapped up a last-minute discount mezzanine seat to the musical adaptation of the 1990 movie. The show is slavishly faithful to the musical, right down to the iconic pottery scene, but what stands out isn’t the storyline, which teeters between cheesy and affecting, but the over-the-top scenic design. Basically the whole stage is smothered in massive video screens — including the back and side walls — with many on moveable panels that slide, swoop and fold out. (The audience is bombarded with graphics, rapidly changing colors, big blocks of text and even video of the dancers complementing the live ones on stage.) Pretty impressive stuff, but there’s a price to pay for all that complexity: With half an hour to go in the show, I watched as two of the big movable panels crashed into each other, bringing the production to a grinding halt. (It started about 20 minutes later.) As bad luck would have it for the show, I was there the same night as the New York Times and Daily News critics. They were harsh on the music and the chemistry between leads Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy, and made a few cracks about the scenic mishap, of course. Dazzled as I was by the visuals, I felt a little more kindly toward the experience. Even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I really wanted the show to start again after the scenery mishap. (Which I guess is a much better sign than wanting to bolt for the door.)
The show was captured live in performance at Broadway’s renowned Shubert Theatre in New York City where it is currently playing to sold out audiences. This electrifying musical event will begin with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how the show was captured for the big screen and then follow directly into the feature presentation.
I wonder if this will become more the norm. Sure beats the cost of going to New York — or waiting years for a secondary national tour with a non-Equity cast to come through town. Then again, I’m wondering if the magic of live theater will translate in this new medium.
Screenings are 7:30 p.m. tonight, Saturday and Tuesday; and 1 p.m. Sunday.
I don’t think I’ll be able to make it until the Tuesday show. I’m curious to hear from other theater fans what they think if they see it before then.