Monday, August 7, 2023

At This Theatre: The Imperial

One of my favorite things about the Imperial Theatre is that long, skinny lobby with its elegant marbled walls and fancy wall sconces. From there, you enter the theater, and make a turn and there it is, the classic theater itself, a deep red velvet from floor to ceiling and its expansive and beautiful ceiling. That breathtaking awe gets me every time - seeing a show there is an event. On Christmas Day this year, it will be 100 years old, and as you might guess, the place has a rich history. Back in 1923, the opening production was Mary Jane McKane, a musical comedy that featured a book and lyrics co-written by none other than Oscar Hammerstein II. As of this writing, the theater is dark, but I'm sure there'll be another production to brighten its marquee. After all, it is one of Broadway's most popular houses that has been home to some of the biggest hits and notorious flops, such as original productions of Fiddler on the Roof, The Most Happy Fella, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam, Oliver!, Pippin, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Dreamgirls, Chess, Billy Elliot, and most recently, Ain't Too Proud and Bad Cinderella. What will be next? Only time will tell.

At This Theatre:
The Imperial

# of shows we've seen there: 12

The shows we've seen there: 

Bad Cinderella, Billy Elliot, Cabaret (1987), Carousel (2018), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, High Fidelity, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, Les Miserables (original), Les Miserables (2014), The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Nice Work If You Can Get It

Our Favorite Shows Here:
With such a variety of shows that we've seen here - classics, new musicals, hits and flops, each production had something to recommend. But, of the 12, we had some definite favorites. Here are our top five, from five to one:

5. Billy Elliot:
We saw this beautiful piece several times and were awed by the dancing, story and spectacle. I have to say that my favorite "Billy" was Trent Kowalik, and seeing one of our favorite performers, Gregory Jbara, in his Tony-winning turn was a privilege. But it was Haydn Gwynne whose performance as Mrs. Wilkinson that has stuck with me all these years.

4. Carousel (2018 Revival):
I know this is a controversial choice, and that it was a love it or hate it thing for many. But I was reduced to tears by the end of it, I was so overwhelmed by it. The dancing was breathtaking and hearing the "Carousel Waltz" played live by a full orchestra was unforgettable. Joshua Henry and Jesse Mueller were wondrous.

3. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812:
The sheer theatricality and immersive nature of this production (directed by Rachel Chavkin) will not soon be forgotten. The cast, including Denee Benton and Josh Groban as the title characters were amazing, and the challenging book and score by Dave Malloy satisfied this musical theater fan on every level.

2. Jerome Robbins' Broadway:
There hasn't been an opportunity like this one since 1989, and we are so glad we got to experience this "musical of musicals," where legendary director-choreographer Jerome Robbins recreated - from dance to staging to design elements - numbers from his masterpiece musicals. His suite of dances from On The Town and the especially stunning West Side Story were definite highlights. It was not until a decade later when Fosse came in that Broadway had even come close.

1. The Mystery of Edwin Drood:
I have been completely smitten with this "solve-it-yourself-Broadway musical" since the second cast members entered through the house and addressed us directly. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, reveling in the twists and turns and clever word play of Rupert Holmes' book and toe-tapper score. The voting was as fun as the solution itself. And to share a room with such great talents as George Rose, Cleo Laine, Betty Buckley and then newcomer Howard McGillin was a true honor.

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