HERE'S WHAT'S NEW:

CHECK OUT THE TABS ABOVE FOR PREVIOUS ARTICLES, INCLUDING STANDING @ ZERO, ONE THAT GOT AWAY, #TBT, THE FRIDAY 5! CHECK IT OUT!
AND DON'T FORGET TO SCROLL DOWN THE WHOLE PAGE FOR LINKS TO FEATURED ARTICLES, REVIEWS, SHOW SITES, AND THEATER-RELATED STUFF!

COMING UP ON BROADWAY:
A Christmas Carol - Opens: 11.20.19 Jagged Little Pill - Opens: 12.5.19 A Soldier's Play - Previews: 12.27.19, Opens: 1.21.20 Grand Horizons - Previews: 12.20.19, Opens: 1.23.20 My Name is Lucy Barton - Previews: 1.6.20, Opens: 1.15.20 West Side Story - Previews: 12.10.19, Opens: 2.6.20 Girl From the North Country - Previews: 2.7.20, Opens: 3.5.20 Six - Previews: 2.13.20, Opens: 3.12.20 The Minutes - Previews: 2.25.20, Opens: 3.15.20 Hangmen - Previews: 2.28.20, Opens: 3.19.20 Company - Previews: 3.2.20, Opens: 3.22.20 Diana - Previews: 3.2.20, Opens: 3.26.20 The Lehman Trilogy - Previews: 3.7.20, Opens: 3.31.20 Caroline, or Change - Previews: 3.13.20, Opens: 4.4.20 Mrs. Doubtfire - Previews 3.9.20, Opens 4.5.20 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Previews: 3.3.20, Opens: 4.9.20 Plaza Suite - Previews: 3.13.20, Opens: 4.13.20 American Buffalo - Previews: 3.24.20, Opens: 4.14.20 Flying Over Sunset - Previews: 3.12.20, Opens: 4.16.20 Birthday Candles - Previews: 4.2.20, Opens: 4.21.20 How I Learned To Drive - Previews: 3.27.20, Opens: 4.22.20 Take Me Out - Previews: 3.31.20, Opens: 4.23.20 Tony Awards Cut Off - 4.23.20 Tony Awards Nominations - 4.28.20 Tony Awards - 6.7.20 MJ: The Musical - Previews: 7.6.20, Opens: 8.13.20

COMING UP ON THE SITE: 11/20: Opinion: West Side Story - 11/21: #TBT: Broadway Cast Recording: Kiss of the Spider Woman - 11/22: The Friday 5 Quiz

CONTACT US: (Email) jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com (Twitter) @jkstheatrescene (Instagram) jkstheatrescene

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Remembering Harold Prince

Are there really words adequate enough to express the loss we all share with the theater community upon the passing of Harold Prince? He was an influencer before it was even a term. "Genius" doesn't quite cover it, nor does "master." And "brilliant" seems to be the understatement of the millennium.

His loss is a deep one, but his impact will last forever. He brought the concept musical into the world, and he never shied away from the tough topics. Over his career, he either produced or directed (or both) virtually all of the greatest musicals of all time. His collaborators included a who's who of writers - Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kander and Ebb among them. And the list of talent he shepherded to the stage includes nearly every big name of the last 60+ years. Prince was involved in so many successes - West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, etc., etc. Even his "flops" were notable - Follies, Pacific Overtures, Parade, etc.




Broadway will dim the lights in his memory, of course, but they'd have to be off for an hour or more to really give him his due. Perhaps renaming the Majestic Theatre in his name would be an appropriate, lasting memorial.


His place in theater history is cemented. I hope generations will remember his legacy. Thank you for everything, Mr. Prince. RIP

#2133

2nd Chance Shows: American Idiot

I'm pretty set in my ways. Anyone who really knows me will tell you that. But that doesn't mean my mind can't be changed - even when it comes to shows. Most recently, my mind was completely changed about Dear Evan Hansen, when, thanks to Andrew Barth Feldman's beautiful portrayal, I became a Fansen. It reminded me of a similar experience I had with American Idiot.

I was a blank slate when I entered the St. James for a preview. My familiarity with Green Day began and ended with "Good Riddance," though I don't think I could have told you they actually sang it. Mike, though, knew most, if not all of their work, and I figured he could fill in the blanks for me if necessary. Turns out his help wasn't really needed; I could understand it completely.

I didn't completely hate it. There were songs/sequences I thought were terrific - "Holiday," "Extraordinary Girl" and "21 Guns" stood out. And it turns out I knew a few more songs, though before that night, I had no idea who sang them.

By and large, though, I didn't think much of it. It felt too precise for a show with nonconformity as a theme. It was trying too hard to sell real rock music as legit on Broadway. And save for a very few cast members, I thought most of the company was overacting, self-indulgent and distracting. Pretentious was the word of the day, ironic, given its overt disdain for anything even remotely "establishment." I was pretty harsh in my assessment, and I still feel bad about that, because Mike was euphoric about what he had just seen, and I know I brought him down. Again, I'm sorry for that, Mike.

Sands, Gallagher and Esper

Stark Sands and the Original

One time, we even saw Billie Joe Armstrong!

Still, after listening to Mike talk about it and understanding more about what I'd seen, I thought I'd give it another shot. I trust Mike, and if he said I missed something, I knew I had to try again. And so we went. And I really loved it. Maybe it was because I knew what I was getting into, I could relax more and let it wash over me. Maybe it was because I listened to more Green Day music before we returned. One thing I know for sure. With more performances under their belts, the cast was much looser, and they weren't pushing so hard.

Van Hughes (center) and the 1st National Tour Company
We saw it again a few times and I got to know some of my favorite performers like Michael Esper, Stark Sands, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Joshua Henry and Mary Faber. (I was already a John Gallagher Jr. fan.) Not only that, but we drove all the way to Utica to see the very first performance of the first national our. And we traveled to Baltimore and Philadelphia, too. Mike even went to Raleigh, he's such a fan.

So the lesson is simple: keep your mind and heart open even especially when someone you trust says you should try it again. A show I almost wrote off became a favorite and got me to cities and theaters I never would have seen. Thanks, Mike!

#2132

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

300 Shows: Favorite Original Musicals (Part 2)

As I said last week, one of the greatest pleasures in life for a theater fan is sitting down in a Broadway house excited to see a brand new musical. I've seen hundreds in the past 36 or so years, and that thrill never goes away. What a perfect way to conclude this series!

Thanks for the great response to this series of articles! I appreciate your time, comments and shared stories. And for those of you who asked, my 301st Broadway show was Moulin Rouge!, 302nd was Dear Evan Hansen, and 303rd was Beetlejuice. I'm already 1% into my next 300!

So, without further ado, here are the last 10 of my favorite original musicals in New York Times alphabetical order (the first 10 are HERE).

300 Shows:
Favorite Original Musicals
Part 2



Once (2012)
This quiet little gem had me laughing and all out sobbing. Clever and smart, the book was solid, and the score sublime. Just the other day, I heard "Falling Slowly," and all those feelings came rushing back. What a wonderful rush. Broadway needs more of this. Please.









Side Show (1997)
I can't fully describe just how much I loved this show. But I did. I love that it was both aiming to be a crowd-pleaser and something a little deeper, and I really loved that it was so stylized, and required the audience to engage for the complete experience.









Spring Awakening (2006)
Seeing this show off-Broadway, I just knew it was going to be big. Before the cast became famous, before the acclaim and awards, everyone in the room knew. Truth is, I was a little worried that it wouldn't survive in the bigger world of Broadway. But that concern was for naught. It was just as great, if not better.








Sunset Boulevard (1994)
I might have mentioned this a time or three, but this was the only show I ever saw the matinee, got in line for tickets and saw it again that night. the grand music, the fabulously intriguing and campy story... the mansion, floating down as if from heaven. And the songs, "As If We Never Said Goodbye" (of course), but I also love me some "Let's Have Lunch" and "Every Movie's a Circus."








The Band's Visit (2017)
Quiet and small, but so humanity-verifying. Just what I needed. People just living their lives can be so profound. I found it to be just about perfect. My only real disappointment is that I only got to see it three times. "Welcome to Nowhere" makes me smile, "Papi Hears the Ocean/Haled's Song About Love" makes me laugh, and "Answer Me" just makes me feel alive.








The Full Monty (2000)
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the prospect of seeing the full monty is what got me in the door. But I left with an appreciation for a new composing talent and a new favorite musical. Charming, heartfelt, and, dare I say it, masculine - in all the right ways. Bonus: Andre DeShields, Jason Danieley, Emily Skinner and Annie Golden!








The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985)
I have a long history with this show, but that's for another time. The reason this is on the list is simple: I love every single thing about it. Funny, clever, creepy, engaging. Not a bad song in the bunch (even the cut songs are superlative - anyone have a recording of "A Private Investigation" by any chance?). What was so cool was the voting. Remember, this was way before Survivor, American Idol, etc., where choosing a favorite after paying really close attention to the details was unheard of back then.






The Scottsboro Boys (2010)
I can't fully express how grateful I am that I had the chance to witness this brilliant piece of art. Truly, one of the greatest musicals I have ever seen. I look forward to the time when this piece gets its due. If you missed this show, you really missed something special.









The Will Rogers Follies (1991)
On the other end of the spectrum is this splashy, opulent Broadway musical was full of thrilling production numbers, dazzling costumes, great characters and a fantastic old-school score. The production team was full of masters at the top of their game. This is one of those "they don't make 'em like this anymore" shows that I really miss.








Titanic (1997)
I was there during previews - I missed the shows where the boat didn't sink, but I was there when people walked out in droves - but I loved it from the start. Even before Rosie O'Donnell made it cool to love it. The score was a stunner, the script was gripping (despite knowing how it would end!), and the boat sinking was super cool. But here's what I remember vividly: the moment during a tense argument over whether or not first- and second-class passengers should be allowed to mix by the staircase when a drink cart, slowly rolled across the stage. Talk about a reality check.



#2131

Monday, July 29, 2019

REVIEW: Beetlejuice

Review of the Saturday, July 20, 2019 evening performance at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City. Starring Alex Brightman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Kerry Butler, Rob McClure, Leslie Kritzer, Adam Dannheisser, Jill Abramovitz, Danny Rutigliano, Dana Steingold and Kelvin Moon Loh. Book by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect. Based on the motion picture by Geffen Company Pictures with a story by Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson. Scenic design by David Korins. Projection design by Peter Nigrini. Lighting design by Kenneth Posner. Costume design by William Ivey Long. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Choreography by Connor Gallagher. Direction by Alex Timbers. 2 hours 40 minutes, including one intermission.

Grade: C

A couple of times during the show, Mike leaned in to me and whispered, "why is the audience screaming at everything?" It is true that literally (yes, I know what that means, and I am using it correctly) every single song was greeted with actual screams of approval, whether it was at the end of a giant production number, the end of each belt-your-face-off song (which accounts for every song), every joke (funny or not). Heck, they screamed at costumes, set pieces, and even a puppet that got the kind of ovation generally reserved the first performance of a newly-minted Tony Award winner. Hey, I love an enthusiastic audience, please don't misunderstand. But every reaction was at a level 10, with no where to go up; such uniformity of praise leads me to ask: did they mean it every single time, or was it what they thought was expected? To be fair, since Beetlejuice itself arrives at a level 10 and never modulates, so I guess the reaction was understandable. The result is that everything about the evening is exhausting on both sides of the footlights.

WARNING! POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD

Perhaps I should preface this by saying I have never seen the film or any animated versions of this story, so I am coming at this from a truly judge-this-as-a-show only point of view. It would seem to me that the whole story revolves around Beetlejuice getting Lydia to say his name three times. That happens at the end of act one. For me, that's where it should have ended. Okay, maybe a a scene or two to tie up loose ends, but that's it. The show does not benefit from a second act. It slows down considerable, even though like act one, it is relentless in its intensity. By the time it was over - and you could tell how it was going to end well before it actually did - it was just too much of a good thing. Frankly, the whiff of desperation pervades a fair amount of act one and most of act two.  It felt like everyone involved was afraid that if they slowed it down, or stopped joking, or didn't reveal another special effect, that somehow we might lose interest or, worse yet, discover that there's not much there. What are they afraid of? Alex Timbers should know better, and is more than capable of finding ways to slow things down, trim the fat, and break the monotony.

The book (by Scott Brown and Anthony King) is overstuffed with plot as I mentioned. And there are so many unnecessary characters that take up time and drag things out. Did we really need that girl scout bit? One song, one scene and she's gone. Did we really need to meet the life coach's life coach? An offensive stereotype, and a half-assed sight gag weren't worth the time they took. And Miss Argentina? Another one and done moment that contributed nothing but another production number and a one scene joke. I'll assume from the screams of delight that these things are familiar and beloved from the film? Brown and King do provide many well-deserved laughs - I laughed a lot. It was crude, mildly offensive, and somehow, I mean that as a positive. It is the unrelenting, unmodulated tone of the whole thing that offers diminishing returns.

Sophia Anne Caruso, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler
I could say the same thing about Eddie Perfect's score. When it is good, it is good - "The Whole Being Dead Thing," "Barbara 2,0," and "Home" are particular standouts. But every song is, you guessed it, at the same level and it's unwavering formula of production number/full-on belt/stuff it with a barrage of jokes in every song be comes tedious. And let's face it, you leave humming "Shake, Senora" and "Day-o," made sure by highlighting them (again) in the finale. What does that say about the original part of the score?

Now, here's where this review might take a surprising turn. Individually, I think most of the other elements are really very good. David Korins has created another great set, as expected, and manages to create an opulent, magical work space for the energetic cast to play in. Peter Nigrini's projections are creative, and Kenneth Posner's lighting is appropriately crazy (though the house lights pre-curtain and during intermission were annoying). Connor Gallagher makes a very respectable debut as a choreographer - seems he used his time with Beauty and the Beast to learn how to set dances around a fair amount of stage clutter - no small accomplishment given the excesses of the production.

Leslie Kritzer and Adam Dannheisser
The cast is terrific - it isn't their fault the show itself is messy. They are all on the same page and that's a great thing. Despite what I said above, the actors who play the girl scout, the life coach's life coach, and Miss Argentina are all good (Dana Steingold, Kelvin Moon Loh, and Leslie Kritzer, respectively). Ms. Kritzer plays a much more significant role as the life coach for a grieving family, and she is a riot, nimbly walking that line between perfect comedy and ridiculousness. As the not-so-grieving widower, Adam Dannheisser is fine, and is actually the bright spot of the second half.

Alex Brightman and Sophia Anne Caruso
Two of my favorite actors on Broadway, Rob McClure and Kerry Butler, were, as usual, terrific, with ample opportunities for broad physical comedy and brassy Broadway singing. The real stars of the show, naturally, the earthbound brooding goth girl who partners with the titular ghost to gain her access to her deceased mother and him to gain his one true desire to be seen. These roles couldn't be better cast. Sophia Anne Caruso owns the stage and has a huge voice, both perfect for this staging. It is to her credit that she can hold her own (and even dominate) the force of nature that is Alex Brightman, who works the audience like a carnival barker, and looks to be having a most excellent time. His line delivery is impeccable, and the voice he affects only adds to the fun. With both School of Rock and now Beetlejuice calling on him to pull from the same bag of tricks, I'd love to see him tackle something with a little more emotional depth and a lot less bombast. I'm sure he's up to it.

Seeing this show reminds me of something my grandmother used to say around Halloween. It was something about not eating all of my candy at once. It could make me sick, but it definitely will stop being a treat after the fourth or fifth piece. Sugar rush...empty calories...

📸: J. Kyler, M. Murphy

#2130

Friday, July 26, 2019

REVIEW: Moulin Rouge!

Review of the Saturday, July 20, 2019 matinee preview performance at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City. Starring Aaron Tveit, Karen Olivo, Danny Burstein, Tam Mutu, Sahr Ngaujah, Ricky Rojas and Robyn Hurder. Based on the 20th Century Fox motion picture by Baz Luhrmann. Book by John Logan. Music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Justin Levine. Scenic design by Derek McLane. Costume design by Catherine Zuber. Lighting design by Justin Townsend. Sound design by Peter Hylenski. Choreography by Sonya Tayeh. Direction by Alex Timbers. 2 hours 35 minutes with one intermission.

Grade: A

Not many things have changed at Moulin Rouge! since it first crossed my path a year ago. And that is mostly a good thing. It remains the new gold standard for jukebox musicals - and it just may be the most jukebox-iest of them all. It also fills the void left behind by Mamma Mia! (maybe it's the titular exclamation mark?). You see, this trip to the spectacular spectacular is the most fun you'll have on Broadway these days. And that is not anything to sneer at; it should be embraced in these dark, troubled times. The Broadway incarnation retains the eye-popping visuals, the bombastic, tongue-in-cheek singing, and the thrill-ride quality of the dancing from Boston. If anything, it has been ramped up a notch or two.

Still, there have been changes. Our heroine is sicker. Our slick narrator/emcee now leads a big number. There are fewer green faeries (as in only one left - a good thing). And the closing sequence has been tweaked to add the ensemble singing a heartfelt "Come What May," while a bare stage greets a somber exiting troupe (man, it is difficult to not give away too much...). I'm sure there have been a number of imperceptible edits that have cumulatively made the ending much more emotionally satisfying. That may also be due, in large part, to the palpable chemistry that now radiates off the stage at the Al Hirschfeld.

Then again, there was a big thing that needed changing that went untouched.  The villain of the piece goes off with no real consequences; he just kind of leaves the stage and that's that. No epic show down, no big defeat. Nothing. It doesn't make sense unless you think past the show and realize that he's now free to terrorize another woman. But Moulin Rouge! isn't that kind of show. Similarly, I think we are supposed to realize the aftermath of the villain's departure through implication. We know the company has banded together to uphold the Bohemian ideals - they literally tell us. But what has become of the club and its denizens is barely addressed. Had that somber exiting troupe been perhaps enhanced or given more depth, we could have ended on a truly emotional, devastating note. But Moulin Rouge! isn't that kind of show. Instead, we get a hedonistic mega-mix curtain call which leaves us with a completely different kind of emotional note. And that's fine, too, because Moulin Rouge! is that kind of show. And it wears its sexy, throbbing, heart on its sparkly sleeve.

Harold Zidler
Although this is the first musical of the season and it may sound premature to say so, I think Derek McLane's all-enveloping, red velvet valentine of a set, Justin Townsend's radiant, eye-popping lighting, and Catherine Zuber's opulent, erotic costumes are bound for awards glory. The same can be said for the near constant and always breathtaking dancing by acclaimed choreographer Sonya Tayeh, making an epic Broadway debut. Nearly every number is rightfully greeted with cheers of delight and lengthy applause. "Bad Romance/Toxic" and "Roxane" are particular stand outs, and of course there is the entire opening sequence from the slow-motion sword swallowing through the show's first shower of glitter. The dancing is truly spectacular.

The book by John Logan and lyrics used as dialogue serve the show well, mostly as a means to get us from song to song. I should mention that one big change I noticed since Boston is that the audience (at least the day I saw it) mostly reacted appropriately. As the barrage of clever lyrics as dialogue continued, they laughed when it was funny, but didn't go crazy at each revelation of a recognized song. This was particularly noticeable when "Firework" started - no laughs because it wasn't funny. It was touching, empowering and unabashedly fierce. All of this would be for naught if director Alex Timbers hadn't fully embraced the fun and the outrageous, which he did. He really is a master at making things build, bringing control to the chaos.


The ensemble must exhausted by the end of of each performance - I can't imagine doing it twice a day. They sure are talented singers, dancers, acrobats, gymnasts, contortionists, etc. It is nice to see such a diverse group, too, not just racially, but in gender and body type. At the Moulin Rouge, everyone is hot. The "Lady Marmalade" quartet - Robyn Hurder, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Holly James and Jeigh Madjusis particularly dazzling to the delight of everyone in the room.

The Argentinian and Nini

The Bohemians

Ms. Hurder is more featured later as confidante and rabble-rouser, and is a magnificent dancer. At one point, she partners with Ricky Rojas, an equally amazing dancer, who does a lot with very little material. With more meat to his role, fellow Bohemian Sahr Ngaujah fares even better as Toulouse-Lautrec. He is by turns funny and intense, and his take on "Nature Boy" is soulful perfection. Despite my qualms with how his character's demise is given short shrift, Tam Mutu is pretty sensational as a creepy, dangerously evil man who would be up on charges today.

Satine and Christian
Though I didn't feel they lacked chemistry together or lacked individual charisma last summer, they certainly have developed even more now. "They," of course, are Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo, as love-struck Christian and femme fatale Satine, joined together by a passionate desperation, albeit for different reasons. Mr. Tveit does double duty as narrator and leading man, and is much more at ease in a role that you can see he's starting to really enjoy - I imagine he'll be even better 6 months from now. It's a tough assignment, too, requiring him to run the gamut of emotions, belt out number after number, dance like Astaire, do stunts and physical comedy. And to look smoking hot while doing it. (I'm not objectifying here - several characters mention it.) Meanwhile, Ms. Olivo must command the stage as the star of the club, be vulnerable as her past comes back to haunt her, fight off a nasty man, save her friends, and battle a disease. Did I mention swinging in from the rafters and doing Beyoncé moves? She does it all with astonishing grace, humor and ferocity.

Danny Burstein practically steals the show as the Moulin Rouge owner and master of ceremonies. At once charming and vicious, his performance is simply exuberant. He nails "Chandeliere," and is having the time of his life. You can see the gleeful glint in his eye throughout, but never is it more apparent than when he comes out in the finale, daring us to beg for more spectacle with just a wink and a smile. His unabashed joy as he bellows "Everybody can can can!" is contagious.

You leave the Moulin Rouge in a cloud of confetti, spent and delirious. It isn't Sondheim, and it shouldn't be. But it sure is spectacular spectacular.

📸: J. Kyler, M. Murphy

#2129

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Welcome to the Theatre! The Broadway Debuts of Moulin Rouge!

Today we celebrate the 5 cast members of Moulin Rouge! who are making their official Broadway debut tonight.

Congratulations to everyone making their dreams come true! Here's to great reviews, a terrific run, and many more opening nights.


Moulin Rouge!
Opening Night: Thursday, July 25, 2019
Al Hirschfeld Theatre

Olutayo Bosede (Ensemble)
Karli Dinardo (Swing)

Evan Kinnane (Swing)
Jeigh Madjus (Babydoll/Ensemble)

Caleb Marshall (Swing)

#2128

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

REVIEW: Dear Evan Hansen

Review of the Sunday, July 21, 2019 matinee performance at the Music Box Theatre in New York City. Starring Andrew Barth Feldman, Lisa Brescia, Michael Park, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Mallory Bechtel, Alex Boniello, Roman Banks and Samantha Williams. Book by Steven Levenson.  Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Scenic design by David Korins. Projection design by Peter Nigrini. Lighting design by Japhy Weideman. Costume design by Emily Rehbolz. Sound design by Nevin Steinberg. Choreography by Danny Mefford. Direction by Michael Greif. 2 hours 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Grade: A+

I think the biggest theatrical surprise I've had in years came to me this past Sunday when I saw Dear Evan Hansen. You see, I had seen the show once before, off-Broadway at Second Stage, and I hated it. What a difference a few tweaks and uniformly better performances from a (mostly) different cast can make. I understand now the obsession people have with this show, from teens directly relating to the main character, to parents understanding/dreading the realities of child-rearing in the 21st century, to adults like me, who can remember feeling helpless in high school and having enough distance to understand the really bad things social media can do to relationships. I still have some qualms about the too pat ending and the overly optimistic lack of consequences. And I still think that the music (not the fantastic lyrics) of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul has a generic, monotonous feel to it more times than not. But after what I witnessed the other day, those qualms are more than made for by the passionate performances of the current company.

Dear Evan Hansen
The technical elements of the show were and are perfect for this show. David Korins' use of set pieces instead of literal sets allowing the unrelenting bombardment of social media screens to be in constant view is typical of his brilliance. Those projections, by Peter Nigrini and the lighting by Japhy Weideman are practically a character unto themselves. The tight, economical staging by the great Michael Greif is reminiscent of his masterful work on Next to Normal. And this time around, I was able to fully appreciate his work. He has a real knack for helping an audience understand a world where the primary characters are emotionally challenged and challenging.

I don't envy Samantha Williams and Roman Banks who play very unlikable characters. It must be difficult to be so on the nose in portraying exactly what is wrong with many teenagers today. One, a jerk who plays at being a friend, then has the gall to call out others for not having his back; the other, an outrageous opportunist, in it for the "likes" and the website traffic, and, who is so self-involved that she really believes she has altruistic ideals. What is frightening is that they represent an increasingly pervasive attitude in today's culture. I mean this as a sincere compliment when I say that I hated them both by the time it was over - that's how excellent both are.

Andrew Barth Feldman, Michael Park.
Jennifer Laura Thompson, Mallory Bechtel
The lone holdovers from the original cast, Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson as the grieving, virtually estranged parents struggling to survive, are so remarkably present after hundreds of performances. The ache they portray was felt throughout the entire theater. Park's "To Break in a Glove" (and the surrounding scene) was an emotional high point for me. I wept at his pain, and for my own pain at wishing I had ever had a moment like that with my own father. "Requiem" is also an emotionally devastating moment, made even more powerful by the heartbreaking performance of Mallory Bechtel, object of our hero's affection, sister of a suicide victim, and a daughter nearly lost in the shadow of her parents' guilt and anger. She found and provided an achingly detailed portrayal that was simply remarkable. With the news that all three will soon be departing the production, I feel so very fortunate to have seen them.

Andrew Barth Feldman and Lisa Brescia
Taking over a Tony-winning role can't be an easy task, but Lisa Brescia did just that when she replaced Rachel Bay Jones as Heidi Hansen. Ms. Brescia is terrific, nailing the awkwardness of a mother who is coming to grips with the fact that despite making a lot of right choices is still somehow failing her son. Her anger and self-loathing are palpable, just as her fear and sadness are. Brescia is particularly wonderful in conveying her almost overwhelming love for her son. Brava! Taking over a Tony-nominated role also brings its own challenges, and frankly, as much as I enjoyed Mike Faist the first time around, Alex Boniello was even better. Brooding, a little frightening, and also vulnerable and even funny, Boniello easily became the focus of every scene he was in. Bravo!

Alex Boniello and Andrew Barth Feldman
So, now I'll admit the primary reason I hated and had pretty much written off Dear Evan Hansen. I loathed Ben Platt's performance, which was so overwrought, so affected, so one-note, it felt like an insult to every kid suffering from anxiety and is somewhere on the autism spectrum. I say this without irony or hyperbole: Andrew Barth Feldman gave one of the single finest performances I have ever witnessed. "Brilliant" doesn't come close to how I felt about his star turn as Even Hansen. It was just so honest and perfectly rendered. And so natural - I never once felt like he was acting or working himself up to any kind of emotional outburst. Instead, each tear he shed (and there were a lot of them) was so in the moment, I couldn't help but join him. He's not just a great actor for a teenager, he's a great actor period. There are no limits to what this young man can do. I for one, can't wait to watch his career take off.

Boy, am I thankful I gave this wonderful show a second chance.

📸: J. Kyler, M. Murphy

#2127
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