For the third year in a row, we’re happy to offer a peek and a prod for our many readers who like to bop up to New York City for a taste of the Big Apple’s best theatre offerings. This summer the two key words are Billy and Hair.
Billy Elliot: The Musical, honored in June with ten Tony Awards (including Best Musical), is really that good. I reserve a special cachet for thrilling shows, and Billy certainly fits the bill. “A concentrated dose of ecstasy” was how Ben Brantley of The New York Times described this show upon seeing its 2006 London premiere. You may recall the award-winning 2000 British film, which composer Elton John saw at Cannes and was so emotionally overwhelmed he had to be helped from the screening room. He soon joined the movie’s creative team of director Stephen Daldry, writer Lee Hall (also lyricist for the musical), and choreographer Peter Darling; and the film’s story of a working-class lad from northern England who discovered a talent for dancing was on its way from film to stage.
And it works; my God, does it work. There are tears and thrills from the very beginning; the music and choreography soar; there are belly laughs aplenty, and the 12-year-old miner’s son’s improbable quest to win a spot at London’s Royal Ballet School quickly mirrors the dilemma of all trapped souls longing for transcendence.
One of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever experienced in the theatre is the “Angry Dance” that closes Act I, performed by Billy against a backdrop of impenetrable police shields and barriers. It ‘s so completely overwhelming and beautiful and powerful that Billy takes a quick bow (usually reserved for the curtain call) before the blackout. It simply knocked me out. Three astoundingly talented boys play the title role on alternating nights; they collectively won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a musical. Don’t miss this show.
The other show on my absolutely-cannot miss list is Hair. If you’re a young person who sighs because you were born too late to experience the peace, love, and flower-power of the 60’s (and I’ve known quite a few), or if you’re a boomer who wants to re-live those halcyon days, then the current revival of Hair is for you. Diane Paulus directs an inspired cast who lovingly inhabit these characters, songs, and scenes, and you’ll want to take them home with you (or at least dance with them—and you can do that at the show’s mesmerizing finale—on stage, yet). This Tony-winning 2009 Best Musical Revival is sexy, sweet, spiritual, mischievous, and above all joyous. Gavin Creel, Will Swenson, Sasha Allen, Allison Case, and company lead you by the hand, sometimes literally, into this new “dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” and it’s pure magic. Again, don’t miss.
The Tony-winning Best Play of 2009 is God of Carnage, an all-star comedy on hiatus during August. It will resume September 1; its players are Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden; they all won Best Actor/Actress nominations and Ms. Harden won the Tony. The play is caustic and hilarious; performed in 90 minutes; written by French playwright Yasmina Reza.
Finally, I caught our now hometown girl Jane Fonda in her Tony-nominated performance in 33 Variations, a drama about a music historian obsessed by Beethoven. The play has now closed, but Ms. Fonda did herself proud in a lovely (if somewhat unexciting), elegant piece of theatre.