It began with the surprising showing of the Paris import of An American in Paris, a stage adaptation of the classic movie musical stuffed with classic Gershwin songs. It opened at the Palace April 12 following its engagement at Paris' Théâtre du Châtelet. It was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, with a new book by Craig Lucas and a cast headed by Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope.
This is a show that many expected to be written off as a nostalgic retread. So it was a bit of a surprise when the critics exited the Palace smiling.
“Just about everything in this happily dance-drunk show moves with a spring in its step, as if the newly liberated Paris after World War II were an enchanted place in which the laws of gravity no longer applied,” wrote the New York Times. “Even the elegant buildings on the grand boulevards appear to take flight.”
AP agreed: “The exuberant new musical is helmed with panache by best director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Gloriously inventive and balletic, it has an intriguing new book by Tony-nominee and Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Lucas.”
Critics were impressed by the leads’ footwork as well as acting. “Fairchild and Cope are trained ballet dancers, so every move they execute in this pas de deux is poised, eloquent and technically flawless,” said Variety. “But these stars prove equally credible as all-around Broadway performers who can sing and act on a professional level, too.” Echoed the Washington Post, “The exhilaration is especially catching when it's being spread by the evening's leading man, Robert Fairchild, a star of the New York City Ballet who here impressively redirects his wattage to Broadway. His breakout performance suggests that his temporary shift in focus could, for musical-theater fans, be advantageously made permanent.”
Not everyone was won over: “There's much gorgeous ballet to admire in director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's Broadway debut, set against attractive, painterly backdrops by Bob Crowley,” wrote Time Out New York, “but the overall effect is of a dance concert with a semiserious musical squeezed into the cracks.”
It Shoulda Been You, a new musical set during a disastrous wedding, starring Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, David Burtka and Sierra Boggess, and directed by David Hyde Pierce, opened at the Atkinson the following night.
In PR descriptions, Shoulda seemed as old-fashioned a property as American in Paris: “a refreshingly modern spin on the traditional wedding comedy, proving that when it comes to wedding day insanity, it’s all relative."
Did critics agree it was refreshingly modern? Not so much. “There's not an element in It Shoulda Been You that hasn't been used, and wrung dry, before,” wrote the Times. “Adding latter-day twists to this cocktail of clichés somehow makes it taste all the flatter.”
AP liked the show much better: “A good wedding might offer touching moments, tension, humor and perhaps some surprising revelations. All that and more is provided by the new musical It Shoulda Been You, a frequently funny satire of wedding mishaps.” Hollywood Reporter fell somewhere in the middle, praising — as many reviews did — the work on the crack ensemble and their director: “It Shoulda Been You...plays like vintage dinner theater infused with a Borscht Belt sensibility. That it nonetheless manages to be truly amusing is a testament to the talent both on and offstage: such comic pros as Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris and Edward Hibbert manage to make the hoariest of jokes uproarious, while director David Hyde Pierce has staged the proceedings with a brisk expertise that makes the 100 intermissionless minutes fly by.”
Meanwhile, Variety provided the most backhanded compliment of the season, saying, "It Shoulda Been You is awfully funny. That's strange, because there's nothing especially clever about this musical comedy.”
Finding Neverland was next under the critics’ poised pens.
The journey of this new Broadway musical — which tells the tale of how Peter became Pan — has been accompanied by more unscripted drama than Kanye at an awards ceremony. The finished version of this Harvey Weinstein production was brought to the finish line by director Diane Paulus, librettist James Graham, composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, and stars Matthew Morrison, Laura Michelle Kelly (best known as another mythical flying person, Mary Poppins) and Kelsey Grammer.
Knowing full well that Mr. Weinstein could find out where they live, the critics bravely filed their reviews.
“There's not enough flying in Finding Neverland,” concluded Variety, “metaphorical flying, that is, those giddy flights of wit and imagination that make us believe, if not in fairies, then at least that the American musical is still alive and well. Despite the technical marvels that director Diane Paulus brings to producer Harvey Weinstein's beloved obsession, this ambitious version...remains stubbornly earthbound.”
“When the show is working on all cylinders, it's absolutely thrilling,” said AP. But that wasn’t often enough. “A decision seems to have been made to paper over any gaps in the show's coherence by backing up a truckload of pixie dust and pumping it into the theater. It also desperately wants you to cry with a series of false endings that will have you exhausted. Finding Neverland has some great performances but never finds its groove.” Time Out New York found “the awkward, garish and manipulative musical...Show-doctored into a state of shrill mediocrity.”
The lead performers, however, got a good share of love. Said Hollywood Reporter, “At the core of the show are sensitive, naturalistic performances from Morrison and Kelly, two accomplished musical-theater actors who sketch their characters' mutual yearnings and sorrows in delicate strokes, at times finding sincerity even in the most hackneyed lyrics.”
The Daily News agreed: “Matthew Morrison doesn't push. His ever-genuine and impressively easygoing star turn…is what makes his return to Broadway after six seasons of 'Glee' cast such an irresistible spell. Less can be more, and he knows it… Kelly, known for Mary Poppins, is so sublime you wish she had more to do.”
April 16 brought the opening of The King and I, the latest collaboration between Lincoln Center Theater, director Bartlett Sher and actress Kelli O’Hara (following The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific). O’Hara co-stars opposite Ken Watanabe.
The show, not surprisingly, got the best reviews of the week.
“Mr. Sher…understands very well what makes the show work, and he delivers it clean-scrubbed and naked, allowing us to see The King and I plain,” wrote the New York Times.
The AP, meanwhile, didn’t find the show so plain, saying, “There’s an opulent, almost operatic feel to the production.” Hollywood Reporter said, “as he did with the company’s transcendent South Pacific seven years ago, director Bartlett Sher banishes even the faintest trace of mid-century quaintness or patronizing exoticism from the material, treating the…classic with unimpeachable dramatic integrity and emotional authenticity.”
Every critic found O’Hara glorious in both acting and singing as Anna Leonowens (Newsday praised her “her silvery pinpoint vocal precision”), and most were kind to Watanabe, whom, they admitted, was sometimes difficult to understand, but came through in the clinches.
New York Post said, simply, “You can’t overstate how stunningly beautiful, how achingly well sung this new revival is.”
In 1615 or 2015, a new William Shakespeare play will always be news.
The well-named Double Falsehood is the play in question. The script, by the little remembered Lewis Theobald — with that name, no wonder he didn’t make his mark in history — has been a known quantity for centuries. It was first published in 1728 by Theobald, who claimed to have adapted it from three original Shakespeare manuscripts, which were subsequently destroyed in a library fire. The script was first believed to be a long-lost Shakespeare original, then derided as a fake, then accepted as real, then dismissed as a fake again, and is now being touted as the real deal once more by Shakespearean scholars in Texas.
One of the plays the work is based on is claimed to have been Cardenio, a play widely accepted as being a lost Shakespeare play.
The Independent of London reported that researchers at the University of Texas combined psychological theory and text analyzing software on Shakespeare's accepted plays "to build up a profile of Shakespearean characteristics and linguistic patterns." As a result, the researchers "strongly identified" Double Falsehood as coming from the Bard of Avon.
Ah, technology and our faith in it. What wise things Shakespeare would have to say about it.