It was mainly the Off-Broadway theaters downtown that suffered the most and longest delays in reopening following the impact of Superstorm Sandy. Except for the few days of lost business on Broadway, I have observed mainly packed theaters both up and downtown. The only major Broadway production I have missed so far this season is “The Performers,” which made a hasty departure after seven performances.
Here then is a rundown/appraisal of a few of the shows that I feel are worthy of your attention and currently playing, particularly “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” which began its life at the McCarter Theater in a co-production with Lincoln Center Theater.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” One can always count on a play by Anton Chekhov to pop up every season. So it is hardly serendipitous that Christopher Durang’s funny valentine to the great Russian playwright, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” has opened at the Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater at virtually the same time as a sublime revival of Chekhov’s “Ivanov” at the Classic Stage Company.
My mixed to positive feelings about Durang’s “dramedy” when I first saw it earlier this fall during its break-in at Princeton’s McCarter Theater (U.S. 1, September 19) really have not changed. That preview served to make me appreciate the sharper, more clearly defined performances that are now in evidence.
I have to assume that there has not been much pruning of the text. It still takes two and one-quarter hours for Durang’s whimsically overwrought, affectionately woebegone, Chekhovian-rooted characters to complete their journey in the contemporary setting. It’s irrepressibly playful as ever. The starry cast, under the necessarily indulgent direction of Nicholas Martin, manages to penetrate the rather insubstantial core of Durang’s text with an esprit de corps, punctuated as it is with funny lines and funny business. There is some time out for a glimpse at a Chekhovian-esque character that may or may not be sincerely/desperately trying to become flesh and blood.
There is the unhappy, bipolar Sonia (a dazzling award-worthy performance by Kristine Nielsen) who “pines” for her gay, emotionally passive, intellectually unfulfilled playwright step-brother Vanya (David Hyde Pierce). There’s also their self-centered, glamorous, successful sister/actress Masha (Sigourney Weaver), who resents being the family bread-winner and effusively gushes over her incorrigibly narcissistic boy-toy lover Spike (Billy Magnussen). Then there is the ranting and raving prognosticating housemaid Cassandra (Shalita Grant), who has been inexplicably lifted from Greek tragedy. Lastly, there is young Nina (Genevieve Angelson), the demure and unsophisticated girl-next-door who, as you may guess, is destined to get a lift from Spike.
I have great admiration for the scarily hilarious, joyously perverse sociopolitical rants that ignite so many of Durang’s plays including “Miss Witherspoon” (which also had its world premiere at the McCarter in 2005 and went on to a successful New York run). “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is also added to his canon as the most adorably addled.
Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater. $85. 212-239-6200. HHH
“Ivanov.” Speaking of Chekhov, this splendid production by the Classic Stage Company, under the direction of Chekhov expert Austin Pendleton, is more than a revelation with a sparkling new down-to-earth translation by fellow Chekhov scholar Carol Rocamora.
“Ivanov” is credited as the great Russian playwright’s first produced play. While not as famous as “The Cherry Orchard” or “The Three Sisters,” it is a stunning example of his early mastery of fusing melodrama with farce. Even in this early play, we can see how Durang would be inspired by Chekhov’s ability to make us laugh aloud even in the midst of the panic and pain being felt by the titular character (magnificently acted by Ethan Hawke), who seeks escape from a hilariously boring circle of society.
Through December 9. Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th Street $65. 212-677-4210 x13.
“Annie.” Speaking of another Sandy, the lovable pooch is now back on Broadway in the sweet revival of “Annie.” This Sandy’s arfs are considerably less ear-shattering than the notes belted out by Lilla Crawford. She’s the spunky, optimistic, curly red-head orphan who, after escaping from the clutches of abusive, alcoholic orphanage matron Miss Hannigan (a shrill Katie Finneran), finds happiness when she’s adopted by wealthy industrialist Daddy Warbucks (played by the terrific Australian singer/actor Anthony Warlow).
You get what you expect from this lively production that, under the direction of James Lapine, follows the formula set in stone by creators Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music), and Martin Charnin (lyrics). The best part: A great score that will send you out of the theater singing — and with more clarity than the electronically enhanced voices of the performers.
Open-ended run. Palace Theater Broadway at 47th Street. $69- $129. 877-250-2929 or ticketmaster.com.
“Chaplin.” A grand and affectionate musical biography of Chaplin has been devised by collaborators Christopher Curtis (music and lyrics) and Thomas Meehan (book co-authored with Curtis) to effect a sprawling nearly 60 years (1913 – 1972) overview of Chaplin’ life and career from his young years as an entertainer in England to his startling rise to fame as a star of Mack Sennett’s slapstick comedies and feature films.
It is fortunate that Chaplin is played brilliantly by the multi-talented Bob McClure (making his Broadway debut), who comes close to capturing Chaplin’s often heartbreaking characters. McClure not only has the right moves, especially in the delightful scenes that give us a glimpse of how he refined his technique in the early days, but has the acting chops to define a man obsessed with his art. Curtis’ score is charmingly effervescent but also evocative and poignant as the occasion demands. Director/choreographer Warren Carlyle has infused the show with a fluidity of movement and dances that define and compliment the era.
Open ended run. Barrymore Theater, 243 West 47th Street. $66.50-$135.50. 212-239-6200.
“The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Be advised that the Roundabout Theater Company is currently playing host to a visiting troupe of rather boisterous and bawdy Victorian British music hall performers who have been miraculously transported 117 years into the future for a special engagement of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” — their version of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel performed exactly as it was performed at London’s Music Hall Royale in 1895.
By dying before he completed “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” Dickens left his half-finished novel irreparably unresolved and untidy. The delightful musical adaptation by Rupert Holmes (book, music, and lyrics) is now having its first Broadway revival since it opened in 1985. It is nice to report that this rambunctious show amusingly embraces all of the novel’s loose ends.
The carefully crafted improvisatory-styled conceits that mark every production of Drood have once again been artfully integrated by director Scott Ellis. Further uplifting what is essentially a hoary whodunit is a stylish new production that continues to rest on the ability of the audience to be receptive when it comes time for them to pick “whodunit,” as well as to pick who will be paired as lovers. There is much to relish in the attention-grabbing performances by a formidable list of suspects that include Broadway legend Chita Rivera as notorious opium queen Princess Puffer.
“Drood” is more mischievous than mysterious, but it offers two wonderfully undemanding hours of entertainment in the grand tradition of the English music hall.
Through February 10. Roundabout Theater at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street. $42-$137. 212-719-1300.
The following are a few extraordinary dramatic plays currently playing on and Off Broadway.
“Grace.” Craig Wright wrote this provocative play starring Paul Rudd, Michael Shannon, Kate Arrington, and Edward Asner. Here a naive Evangelical married couple set out to follow their dream to open a chain of “Gospel” motels in Florida, only to discover that dreams can turn into nightmares.
Through December 16. Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street. $32- $132. 212-239-6200.
“Disgraced.” Ayad Akhtar may see his reputation soar by this gripping, unsettling play that shows us how easy it is for well-educated, socially sophisticated, politically savvy people to lose their cool and their sense of perspective when it comes to matters of religion, social standing, and cultural identity.
Through December 2. Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street. $20, $50 after December 3. 212 -239-6200.
“The Heiress.” Moises Kaufman directs Jessica Chastain, Judith Ivey, David Strathairn, and Dan Stevens, the star of “Downton Abbey,” in this magnificently acted, visually stunning production of Henry James’ novel in which a domineering father tries to keep his daughter from marrying a handsome but penniless fortune hunter.
Walter Kerr Theater, 219, W. 48th Street. $50- $135. 212-239-6200.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In honor of the play’s 50th anniversary, the Steppenwolf Theater Company has given a new perspective to the hellish histrionics in Edward Albee’s scathing play. Under the direction of Pam MacKinnon, the verbally abusive psychological assault on young, newlywed faculty members by an older condescending professor and his wife is emotionally draining and demanding.
Through February 24. Booth Theater, 222 West 45th Street. $67-$132. 212-239-6200.