Broadway shows

Letter from NY: Broadway report

What's been lighting the lights on the Great White Way? A Choir Boy, a Mockingbird, Sam Shepard, and a Prom.

By MISHA BERSON

NEW YORK – Somewhere between the dead of winter and the rebirth of spring, Broadway takes a breath. It’s before a stream of shows hoping to vie for Tony Awards take up residence near Times Square.  And it’s after a lot of productions, including really great stuff like last year’s Tony Award for best original musical, The Band’s Visit, prepare to depart.

Yet for a Broadway-bound visitor to New York there is still enough to attract your attendance, if you choose wisely.

During a recent East Coast journey I was able to put together a smorgasbord of shows that included a riveting contemporary drama,  an engrossing play revival, a play based on an American literary classic and – oh, right – a new musical.  (And it wasn’t Cher.)  I watched several screen stars in live action, revisited an old favorite script, and witnessed the flowering of a young African-American writer who is helping revitalize serious American drama on Broadway.

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Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy.” Photo: Matthew Murphey

LET’S START WITH THAT LAST ONE: Choir Boy, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. Though it debuted Off Broadway in 2013, this adrenalin- and music-fueled play set in a black all-male prep school made its Broadway debut only this year, after some revision.  If its author sounds familiar, maybe that’s because McCraney collected an Oscar for his screenplay for the valuable film Moonlight. He also wrote the touted new Netflix baseball drama High Flying Bird.

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The Great White SquarePants

The Great White Way? With the Tonys looming and "SpongeBob" and "Mean Girls" leading the pack, Broadway looks like Nostalgia Lane

NEW YORK – Staged with nonstop brio by Tina Landau, and adorned with a phantasmagorical set and Technicolor costumes, deliriously energetic performers and a peppy but largely forgettable pop music score by hitmakers ranging from Aerosmith to John Legend to Lady Antebellum, SpongeBob SquarePants is yet another lucrative Broadway show drawn from a pop-culture phenom in another medium. In this case, it’s a long-lived cartoon series on TV’s Nickelodeon network.

The show exemplifies one of two kinds of pop-culture nostalgia going head to head in a Broadway season that aims to keep its aging Baby Boomer audience happy – while luring their adult children and grandchildren in, too.

On one end of the generation spectrum you have some well-regarded revivals of golden-era Broadway shows many Boomers grew up watching with their parents, or at least hearing on the family hi-fi (back when record players weren’t especially hip, just ubiquitous). Those can be fond memories, triggered by the well-reviewed mountings of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel by director Jack O’Brien, Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady staged by Bartlett Sher, and Jerry Zak’s take on Hello, Dolly! (which actually opened last season, with Boomer favorite Bette Midler in the lead).

Also, for the lucky few who can score tickets, there’s nostalgia attached to aging rock legend Bruce Springsteen’s smash one-man show, and even some ‘70s glitter memory-dust sprinkled on the tepidly received jukebox disco-tuner, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.

The company in Broadway’s bright, splashy “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Photo © Joan Marcus

Throwback fare that appeals to their offspring, the Gen-Xers and Millennials is also well-represented by SpongeBob SquarePants and new movie makeovers of Mean Girls and Frozen. And the sole new hit drama on Broadway this season? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a dramatization that’s a sequel to the wildly popular J.K. Rowling Harry Potter novels – especially beloved by droves of Millennials and their kids.

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