Last month, I had the pleasure of taking in two new productions on Broadway.
This was pretty unique for several reasons. First off, both plays were in previews when I saw them. What exactly does that mean in this day and age? Well, productions in previews can still and often do make changes to songs, casts, and running order. The performers haven’t done the play for months and months, so sometimes they miss a cue or the staging is off. I rather like that – it can feel fresher than other plays where you know that someone has done the part 700 times and could do it in his sleep. Secondly, I don’t often go to two shows in a month. Really. In the case of the musical, we had been planning since October to see it, and we knew we had to buy tickets first to get good seats. When it came to the play, a group of theater going friends mentioned that we hadn’t seen anything in ages, and we needed to get another play in our diaries. A couple of productions were suggested, but since it was a limited run, we decided on LUCKY GUY.
Also worth noting, neither of these tickets were comped or discounted. That’s the sound of me paying full fare, in case you were wondering.
So let’s talk LUCKY GUY. Here’s the description, directly from the Lucky Guy website:
Two-time Academy Award® winner TOM HANKS makes his Broadway debut in the world premiere of three-time Academy Award nominee NORA EPHRON’s play LUCKY GUY, directed by two-time Tony Award® winner GEORGE C. WOLFE.
LUCKY GUY marks a return to Ephron’s journalistic roots in a new play about the scandal- and graffiti-ridden New York of the 1980s, as told through the story of the charismatic and controversial tabloid columnist Mike McAlary, who won the Pulitzer Prize shortly before his untimely death on Christmas Day, 1998.
The story of McAlary is told through his fellow journalists and his wife. It takes place during the great newspaper wars of the late 1900s (sounds so old doesn’t it?) I remember well reading the tabloids and following along with the strikes, columnist tantrums and the like. I always thought it was so glamorous, the hard-bitten life of a journalist. And so did playwright Ephron. You can tell that she wants to bring back the glory of the newspaper man.
So overall, there are good things and not so good things about the production.
GOOD THINGS – First, the actors. Even though Tom Hanks rules the marquee and does a wonderful job in the title role, it’s Courtney B. Vance who had me marveling at how damn good he was. Sure, you’ve seen him in movies and on TV, you know he’s an amazing actor. But in this show he ruled the stage. The supporting cast was very good too. All top notch actors. Mostly.
Next, the pacing of the story was very good – kept you really interested and cut way down on the fidget factor. The staging was very creative and well done.
NOT SO GOOD THINGS: Perhaps it is a fault of the story or of the times, but I found the female POV to be lacking. Mike’s wife Alice is a part of the story, but I found her perspective to be lacking. Also, at the end, she has what is supposed to be a long and touching monologue but it just didn’t move me. Maybe it was the actress (Maura Tierney) but the character just didn’t bring it home. It especially bothered me because there was a female playwright. But I guess you cannot bring to the front that which is firmly in the back. Deidree Lovejoy had a few scene stealing moments, but again, her character wasn’t written as a main part of the story, probably because there weren’t many women in the news room in those days.
There were one or two scenes that I felt could have been firmed up a bit – the part where Hanks’ and Vance’s characters are experiencing a heroin high felt particularly weak. Maybe if the playwright had been around during the run she would have worked them differently? We will never know.
Overall, this is still a play to catch if you have the time. It’s a limited run, so if you are into it, don’t dawdle. It’s been extended through July 3, so you have more options!
courtesy of RSC
Next, MATILDA! I saw this performance in London last year at the urging of a friend. And when I say urging, I’m not kidding. To pacify her, I literally walked off the plane, dropped my bags, and headed to the theater to snag a ticket. It was a Wednesday, and I was looking for Saturday night, but by luck they had seats at that day’s matinee. I was able to get a great seat in the stalls, walk around Covent Garden for an hour or so, enjoy a falafel on the street, and then head in for the performance. Jet lag be dammed! And you know what? It was completely worth it. The show is amazing, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Reviewers on both sides of the pond have come out cheering for the story of the little girl dreams of a better life and took a stand to change her destiny.
I recall saying to a woman in front of me who had brought her daughter to the show that it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. She agreed, having come from NEW ZEALAND with the specific goal of seeing it. I said that I hoped the US productions would get the accents right and I would imagine they would do something like bring the amazing Bertie Carvel who plays evil Miss Trunchbull to the US in order to have some buzz from the get go.
I’m all for saying I’m right, and when the US production was announced, Carvel’s name was attached to it. I was thrilled – I desperately wanted to take Sarah to see it. I even called our theater friends from outside the show in London, yelling something unintelligible about WE NEED TO GET TICKETS TO THIS IMMEDIATELY.
As soon as tickets went on sale, we picked up some for one of the previews. It was everything we hoped it would be. The girls were amazed by the visuals of the production and power of the performances of all the actors, especially the Trunchbull! I can’t wait for the Tonys to be announced. Mark my words, just like in London, MATILDA will be nominated for EVERYTHING. I hope they perform “When I Grow Up” on the awards show – that number just makes my heart sing.
So, two very different shows, appearing right next to each other, but both worth your time and money.