Spring Theater Round-Up #2: Musical Edition

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Take an already gay 1994 motion picture and add some Broadway glitz, a few gay anthems, some incredibly attractive chorus boys and what do you get?  Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, is what you get!

One could really rip this show to shreds if one wanted to, like Ben Brantley in his review for The New York Times.  However, the show doesn’t try to be anything more than it promises: an outlandish and opulent extravaganza.

Tony Sheldon, Will Swenson, and Nick Adams star as three drag queens that make a cross-country trip across Australian a souped up old bus for a drag gig.  Swenson leads the trio as Tick, who takes on the endeavor as a way to meet his son for the very first time. Adams makes a delightful leading role debut (after many shows in the chorus) as Felicia, the buff Madonna-inspired drag performer.  But it is Sheldon (who’s been with the show since its original incarnation inAustralia) that is the heart of the show as the aging transsexual Bernadette who finds love along the way.

The physical production is an explosion of color and wonder.  Three singing divas are flown in and out of the story as the drag queens lip-synch to their vocals.  They sing amazingly and look fierce!  The show’s score is made up of disco anthems such as “I Will Survive,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “Go West,” and “Material Girl” for Adams’ Madonna-loving character. The title character, the bus Priscilla, sparkles and shines with technical wizardry.  The production team wisely recruited the Academy Award winning costume designers of the film to recreate their costumes for the stage.

The ensemble also deserves credit for playing multiple characters throughout the show – roughnecks, drag queens, and casino denizens.  A special shout-out has to go to ensemble member Keala Settle who kept Daddycatcher and the Big Man in stitches every time she appeared on stage!!  And the male ensemble has to be one of the hottest on Broadway right now!

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

The real question here is whether Daniel Radcliffe can sing and dance?  The answer is yes, he can.  Very well, indeed.

Radcliffe confidently leads a superb cast in this 50th anniversary production of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical.  As J. Pierrepont Finch, Radcliffe schemes, sings, prances, and deceives his way up the corporate ladder at the Worldwide Wicket Company.  He capably holds his own among a seasoned ensemble.  Radcliffe displays a thin but serviceable singing voice and dances up a storm as he executes Rob Ashford’s overly athletic choreography.  As written, the character of Finch is an anti-hero who lies throughout the entire show.  It is up to the actor to provide Finch with the necessary charm to make him captivating to the audience.  Robert Morse (Broadway’s original Finch and in the film version) and Matthew Broderick (1995 Broadway revival) brought their unique personalities to the role.  Radcliffe isn’t as zany as those two, but he has the face that makes little girls swoon and mothers want to protect.  Everyone wants Harry Potter to succeed!

John Larroquette also makes an impressive Broadway debut.  His duet with Radcliffe in the faux college fight song – “Grand Old Ivy” – brings down the house.  Rose Hemingway is solid as Finch’s love interest.  Christopher Hanke is much too attractive for the obnoxious Bud Frump, Finch’s rival.  Tammy Blanchard lands her scenes as the bosom-blessed but mentally deficient secretary Heddy LaRue.  Michael Park is just plain sexy as the head of personnel.  The male ensemble in the Mad Men suits and black frame glasses are the second hottest ensemble on Broadway.

Ashford has directed and choreographed this piece within an inch of its life.  His choreography is insanely athletic.  It is entertaining to watch but it detracts from some of the clever character songs that Frank Loesser has written, such as “The Company Way.”  The 11 o’clock number, “Brotherhood of Man,” brings down the house.  It is the perfect combination of Radcliffe, Loesser, and Ashford and it sends the audience out on a high!

The Book of Mormon

Nothing is sacred to Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the long-running Comedy Central show, South Park.  And Broadway is all the better for it.  Stone and Parker, along with Avenue Q’s Robert Lopez, have created a good, old-fashioned musical comedy.  It just so happens that it’s one of the naughtiest things to play on Broadway since, well, Avenue Q.

The show follows two Mormon missionaries as the head on their pilgrimage to grief-stricken Uganda.  Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad are equally impressive as the handsome Elder Price and the coarse Elder Cunningham, respectively.  Rannells’ second act solo, “I Believe,” is a highlight.

The show starts strong with a catchy opening number and three more clever songs, culminating in the “Hakuna Matata” inspired number, “Hasa Diga Eebowai.”  You’ll have to see the show (or Google) to get the meaning of that term.  Once revealed, the audience went crazy!  Once in Uganda, the show slows a little bit but regains its momentum in the 2nd act.

The show is cleverly constructed and an uproarious good time for many people – if you are into the humor that Stone and Parker provide.  A lot of jokes are made at the expense of religion, not just the Mormons, but the message is that everyone needs something to have faith in something.

Anything Goes

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of the Cole Porter musical, Anything Goes, lacks an essential ingredient: a brassy leading lady.  Instead we have Sutton Foster who sings perfectly and dances like a dream.  However, the role of Reno Sweeney is built for a showtune belting, bulldozing diva like Ethel Merman or Patti LuPone.  Foster is technically great but she lacks the essential star power the role requires.

Set on a transatlantic cruise ship, Anything Goes follows the romantic misadventures of a couple of love-lorn travelers.  Whenever the melodies of Cole Porter take center stage, the show soars.  The book scenes, admittedly dated, don’t hold up as well.  The screwball comedy aspect of the show seems to have been lost at sea with the cast not able to make the jokes or comedic situations land.

Sharing above-the-title billing with Foster is Joel Grey as Moonface Martin, Public Enemy 13.  Grey relies on his impish qualities to no effect.  Colin Donnell lends a beautiful voice to such gems as “You’d Be So Easy to Love” and “All Through the Night.”  Laura Osnes continues to redeem herself after appearing on the Grease reality TV show.  As the ingenue Hope, she is an excellent soprano and looks beautiful in Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes.  Adam Godley, as Hope’s intended fiance Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, seems to be the only mining gold out of his book scenes.

Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall does create two show-stoppers with the Act 1 finale, “Anything Goes,” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” in the 2nd Act.  And the sailors in the third hottest male ensemble on Broadway need to do tons of Fleet Week promos!

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