Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Announcing the 2014 Theatre Eddys

Eddie on stage.
ED’S & EDDIE’S 2014 TOP-RATED
PLAYS, MUSICALS, & OPERAS

In 2014 and in spite of Ed's six months of intense chemotherapy,  we saw 112 plays, musicals, and operas (not to mention a full season of ballet and several nights at the symphony).  Once again, this was an outstanding year for plays in the Bay Area..  Narrowing our top-rated plays to the Top Ten was very difficult, and so we also included some "Honorable Mentions."  Locally produced musicals in the Bay Area area are often outstanding but really good ones are harder to find than comparable plays. We list only our Top Eight in that category this year.  Touring musicals have had  an outstanding year, but we skipped most of them because we had already seen them in NYC.

Of the 111 shows we saw, we awarded 35 "5 Stars" and only 5 ratings of "1 or 2 Stars."
Among Bay Areas theatre companies for the second year in a row, we gave the most “5” ratings (the top of our scale) to SF Playhouse (5 of their productions).  Right behind them as in 2013 was TheatreWorks with four “5”-ratings.  Altogether, 12 local companies had at least one production we rated “5,” a testament to the amazing theatre scene of the SF Bay Area, including 3 to the new Stanford Repertory Theatre.  (We attended plays and musicals at 26 different Bay Area companies in 2013.)

(A complete list of our 2014 shows with ratings and short descriptions can be found at http://guydads.com/ticketstubs2014.html.)

The EDDYs Top Ten SF Bay Plays of 2014

10.  An Inspector Calls - J.B. Priestley, Stanford University Department of Theater & Performance Studies (Jim Carpenter)
[When Inspector Goole arrives unexpectedly at the home of a wealthy British family, their well-mannered dinner party is shattered by his investigations into the suicide of a young woman. Goole's interrogation uncovers startling relationships between each family member and the tragic suicide.]

9.  The Whale - Samuel D. Hunter, Marin Theatre Company
[On the outskirts of Mormon Country, Idaho, a 600 pound recluse hides away in his apartment eating himself to death. Desperate to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter, he reaches out to her, only to find a viciously sharp-tongued and wildly unhappy teen.]

8. Seminar - Theresa Rebeck, San Francisco Playhouse
[Five hundred dollars a week for all the abuse you can take. And maybe sex. That’s what four aspiring novelists pay for a ten-week private writing class with the legendary Leonard. It’s a smorgasbord of vicious, funny wordplay.]

7.  The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures - Tony Kushner, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
[Retired longshoreman and labor leader, Gus, is feeling confused and defeated by the 21st century. When Gus decides to die, his sister, who has been staying with him for a year, invites Gus' three children (who in turn bring along spouses, ex-spouses, lovers and more) to a most unusual family reunion in their Brooklyn brownstone.]

6.  The Big Meal - Dan LeFranc, San Jose Repertory Theatre (theatre closed)
[In a suburban restaurant, 8 actors present the life-changing moments from 5 generations of an American family. From their most intimate joys to their most public sorrows, this family's history is revealed through a time-bending odyssey of birth, death, divorce, and dinner.]

5.  Bad Jews - Joshua Harmon, Magic Theatre
[Cousins Daphna, Jonah, and Liam are Jewish. But when religious Daphna squares off with secular Liam and his shiksa girlfriend over a family heirloom, they battle it out Old Testament style.]

4.  Gidion's Knot - Johnna Adams, Aurora Theatre (Stacy Ross)
[Over the course of a parent/teacher conference, a grieving mother and an emotionally overwhelmed 5th grade school teacher have a fraught conversation about the suicide of the mother's son, Gidion, after his suspension. Gidion may have been bullied severely -- or he may have been an abuser.]

3.  Jerusalem - Jez Butterworth, San Francisco Playhouse
[A modern mythic tale of the death of a god. In the woods of southwest England, Johnny "Rooster" Byron, former daredevil and modern-day Pied Piper, is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, his son wants to be taken to the country fair, a stepfather wants to give him a serious kicking and a motley crew of friends wants his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.]

2.  Bauer - Lauren Gunderson, San Francisco Playhouse
[Why did Rudolf Bauer stop painting? Imprisoned by the Nazis, he sketched on scraps. His fiery love affair with Hilla Rebay (Guggenheim curator) lasted a lifetime. The Guggenheim was built to house his work. In his time, Bauer was considered by Solomon Guggenheim to be an even greater painter than his contemporary, Kandinsky.]
Seen this year on both SF and NYC by SF Playhouse!

1.  The Great Pretender - David West Read, TheatreWorks
[The passing of a cherished puppeteer consumes a children’s TV host in this comic tale of friendship, love, and letting go.]

THE EDDY'S HONORABLE MENTION BAY AREA 2014 PLAYS

- Rapture, Blister, Burn - Gina Gionfriddo, Aurora Theatre
- Old Hats - Bill Irwin, David Shiner, Shaina Taub, A.C.T. 
- Venus In Fur - David Ives, A.C.T. 
- American Buffalo - David Mamet, Aurora Theatre

THE EDDYs Top 8 SF Bay Musicals of 2014

8.  Bonnie & Clyde - Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, Ivan Menchell, San Jose Stage Company
[At the height of the Great Depression, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow went from two small-time nobodies in West Texas to America's most renowned folk heroes and the Texas law enforcement's worst nightmares. The score combines rockabilly, blues, Broadway pop and gospel music.]


7.  Do I Hear a Waltz? - Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, 42nd Street Moon
[Based on Laurents' play "The Time of the Cuckoo". A lonely American spinster touring Italy finds bittersweet romance with a married shopkeeper in Venice]

6.  Yeast Nation - Mark Hollmann, Greg Kotis, Ray of Light Theatre

[In the year 3,000,458,000 B.C., the salt-eating yeasts are the only living creatures on earth, and they’re up against a food shortage, a strange new emotion called “love” and the oppression of a tyrannical king. What follows is a story of youthful love and rebellion involving gooey muck, a coup attempt and … evolution.]

5.  Triassic Parq - Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz, Steve Wargo, Ray of Light Theatre
[Dinosaurs, showtunes and sex changes come together in this new musical. When one female T-Rex suddenly turns male, the entire pack must question their identity, gender, and what is possible through the lens of faith and science. The mutation spawns a chain reaction of identity crises, forcing the dinosaurs to question the very facts of life they've held as truth.]

4.   Motown, The Musical - Berry Gordy, Motown music catalog, SHN
[Story of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s journey from featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more.]

3.  Marry Me A Little - Stephen Sondheim, Craig Lucas, Norman Rene, TheatreWorks
[A revue of songs cut from Sondheim's better-known musicals to a dialogue-free plot about the relationship between two lonely single people, who are in emotional conflict during an evening in their separate one-room apartments. Reset form NYC to SF.]

2.  Into the Woods - Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, San Francisco Playhouse
[The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The musical is tied together by an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, their interaction with a Witch who has placed a curse on them.]

1.  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler, Christopher Bond, TheatreWorks
[Tells the tale of a barber seeking justice for the corrupt London judge who exiled him. Partnered with a delicious pie shop proprietress, Sweeney exacts a fearsome revenge as she concocts an alarming new recipe. Staging changed from Victorian era to 1940s London during the Blitz.]

THE EDDYs SPECIAL 2014 BAY AREA 
THEATRICAL EVENTS

Two local companies this year undertook especially daring and worthy undertakings this year that we rated as HUGE 5's

2.  House - Alan Ayckbourn, Pear Avenue Theatre;
  Garden - Alan Ayckbourn, Pear Avenue Theatre
[Two interlocking comedies seen on consecutive nights that take place simultaneously, with one cast performing both shows in two different theatres at the same time. Teddy and Trish Platt are hosting the annual May Fête for the village. Friends, family, house staff, lovers, politicians, a French movie star and, will it rain?]

1.   The Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
.  Stoppard's 2002 trilogy of plays: Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage, that focuses on the philosophical debates in pre-revolution Russia between 1833 and 1866.  We saw them all in one day at noon, 4 and 8.

Voyage - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
[Meet the young, passionate, idealistic men and women whose struggle for freedom ignited the Russian Revolution and changed the world: Michael Bakunin and Alexander Herzen - among quite a few other competing intellectuals and several romances - in dangerously autocratic 1830s Russia.]
Shipwreck - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
[The young heroes are now in their 30s. The optimism of their early years has hit the rocks of marital infidelity, social anarchy, and a tsar who has no intention of stepping down. The survivors are living in exile: Paris. We follow Herzen's emergence as the father of Russian socialism through the passionate heights of 1848 revolutionary fervor in Paris and desolation of failure, amid a flowering of free love.]
Salvage - Tom Stoppard, Shotgun Players
[The group of would-be revolutionaries moves to London where, after suffering decades of personal and political losses, they struggle to find hope for their way of life. A rising tide of young revolutionaries, dismissing of the old guard as irrelevant, forms a large, sniping chorus.]

THE EDDYs TOP 2014 ONE-PERSON SHOWS  

Ed and Eddie with Coco Peru
3.  Have You HeardMiss Coco Peru, Birdland
[Reprising bits of her past, all-scripted shows from the past 24 years, Peru's show is full of what she does best: telling stories.]

2.  Buyer & Cellar - Jonathan Tolins, SHN (Michael Urie)
[An underemployed Los Angeles actor goes to work in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement.]

1.   Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill – Lanie Robertson, Circle in the Square (Audra McDonald)
[A play with music recounting some events in the life of Billie Holiday. Set in South Philadelphia in March 1959, Holiday is performing in a run-down bar, during one of her last performances before her death in July 1959.]

THE EDDYs TOP 4 2014 OPERAS

4.  Cinderella (La Cenerentola) - Gioachino Rossini, Jacopo Ferretti, San Francisco Opera
[Thanks to her open heart and determination, Cinderella triumphs over her mean-spirited relatives.This version has evil step-father, a wise tutor instead of fairy-godmother and matching bracelets in place of glass slippers.]

3.  Partenope - George Frideric Handel, San Francisco Opera
[Staging reset to a sureal/dadaist 1920's Paris. Disguises, cross-dressing and gender confusion leads to romantic complications in this comic opera about Queen Partenope and her three royal suitors.]

2.  Susannah - Carlisle Floyd, San Francisco Opera
[In the backwoods of Tennessee, a beautiful young woman is accused of indecent behavior after she is discovered bathing naked in a stream. The charismatic traveling preacher sets his sights on her soul for salvation, but it will be their downfall.]

1.  Show Boat - Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Edna Ferber, San Francisco Opera (Bill Irwin, Patricia Racette)
[Based on Ferber's novel. A tale of life on the Mississippi from the 1880s to the 1920s is both a poignant love story and a powerful reminder of the bitter legacy of racism. Classic songs as "Ol’ Man River," "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man," "Make Believe" and "You Are Love."]

THE EDDYs TOP 2014 5 NON-BAY AREA PLAYS

5.  The Cocoanuts - Irving Berlin, George S. Kaufman, Mark Bedard, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
[The service stinks but the gags are four-star in this Marx Brothers romp. Groucho owns a bum hotel in Florida. He’s after a rich society dame, who’s after an eligible match for her daughter, who’s in love with the hotel’s head clerk. Trouble rolls in with the tide when the other Marxes arrive and mama’s eligible match turns out to be anything but.]

4.  This Is Our Youth – Kenneth Lonergan, Cort Theatre-Steppenwolf (Michael Cera)
[Set in NYC in 1982, it follows 48 hours in the lives of three very lost young souls: Warren, a dejected nineteen year old who has just stolen $15,000 from his abusive, tycoon father; Dennis, his charismatic drug-dealing friend who helps Warren put the stolen money to good use; and, Jessica, the anxiously insightful young woman who Warren yearns for.]

3.  It's Only a Play
- Terrence McNally, Schoenfeld Theatre (Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally)
[Set on the opening night, the playwright anxiously awaits to see if his show is a hit. With his career on the line, he shares the evening with his best friend, a television star, his fledgling producer, his erratic leading lady, his wunderkind director, an infamous drama critic, and a wide-eyed coat check attendant on his first night in Manhattan. There's no business like show business.]

2.  The Tempest - William Shakespeare, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
[On a remote island, Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skillful manipulation. He conjures up a storm to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio's lowly nature, the redemption of the King, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso's son, Ferdinand.]

1.  Disgraced 
- Ayad Akhtar, Lyceum Theatre
[A Muslim-American lawyer is rapidly moving up the corporate ladder while distancing himself from his cultural roots. When he and his wife, a white artist influenced by Islamic paintings, host a dinner party, with another couple, a male Jewish art dealer and his African-American lawyer wife, what starts out as a friendly conversation escalates into something far more damaging.]

THE EDDYs TOP 2014 5 NON-BAY AREA MUSICALS

5.  A Gentleman's Guide to Murder 
- Robert L. Freedman, Steven Lutvak, Walter Kerr Theatre (Jefferson Mays)
[Based on Roy Horniman’s novel “Israel Rank, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” finds Monty Navarro, a British commoner, discovering that he’s ninth in line to inherit the Earldom of Highhurst and electing to murder the members of the odious D’Ysquith family standing in his way. In the process Monty keeps a mistress, Sibella Hallward, and courts the comely young Phoebe D’Ysquith.]

4.  On the Town 
- Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jerome Robbins, Lyric Theatre
[Tells the story of three wide-eyed sailors on a whirlwind musical tour of the city that never sleeps. With just 24 hours of shore leave, they’re eager to experience all that New York City has to offer… including a chance to discover love with the girl of their dreams.]

3.  The Last Ship
 - Sting, John Logan, Brian Yorkey, Neil Simon Theatre
[Inspired by Sting’s own childhood, the show is set in an English seafaring town that operates around the local shipyard and follows Gideon Fletcher, a man who left home to see the world and returns fourteen years later to find that the future of the shipyard is in danger. The shipyard’s workers decide to take their fate into their own hands and build a towering representation of the shared dream that has defined their existence.]

2.  Cabaret -Joe Masteroff, Fred Ebb, John Kander, Studio 54-Roundabout Theatre Company (Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams)
[Seedy nightlife at the Kit Kat Klub and doomed romances set in 1929/30 Berlin on the eve of the Nazis' rise to power.]

1.  Here Lies Love 
- David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Tom Gandey, J Pardo, The Public Theater
[Within a throbbing dance club atmosphere we follow the astonishing journey of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos and her meteoric rise and subsequent descent into infamy. The show is an immersive theatrical experience with a narrative, the life of a charismatic president’s wife, reminiscent of Evita.]

Monday, October 20, 2014

NYC/Broadway trip - Oct 2014

We did not make it to New York for our normal July trip (due to Ed's then-chemo treatments), but we more than compensated in our recent journey during which we saw a record 16 shows in 9 days. As we have for several years, we are now sharing our takes on the shows; and we are hoping that you will all do the same when you make your way to NYC.
Below you will find our ranked reviews for shows that are still playing. We also saw four excellent shows that have closed (or were only one-time productions). We offer our views on them at the end in hopes that you will have a chance to see them at some point on a stage near you.
Even though we rank the shows seen, we did not see any show this year that we could not recommend highly. Sometimes, it is one person's performance the night we saw the show that causes it to be lower ranked than others. Other times, it is just our flukily preferences. But, we hope you can see many of, if not all, these shows either in NYC or when they arrive on tour or in local repertory.
And you may want to know that these shows bring our 2014 total-seen theatre productions up to 90 thus far with 2.5 months to go in the year. A toast to my hubby who is a trooper. How many people undergoing six months of chemo could have done that?

OUR 2014 NEW YORK MUSICALS (that are still playing)
1. "On the Town" (Bemstein, Comden & Green; Lyric Theatre)
Ghosts of Gene Kelley & Frank Sinatra from the film version. Huge cast with amazing sets. Ballet-based choreography. Songs you either know or have somewhere heard. Lines of dialog you can say along with the actors. Laughter abounding with silly and poignant episodes.
Oh, my. "On the Town" has it all. From the first deep-voiced chords of Phillip Boykin (with the voice of Porgy), there is magic in every minute. This is what Broadway is all about. Only in NYC or London can you see a show this big, this wonderful. The story is as fun as it was several generations ago. What I love about this production is the combination of cartoon colors and zaniness juxta-positioned with professional ballet. This is the kind of musical it is worth a trip to NYC just to see. It reminds me of London's "Top Hat" that we saw in 2013. No big-name stars. Just great B'Way singers, dancers, and character actors. Open-Ended

2. "Cabaret" (Masteroff, Kander & Ebb; Studio 54)
Even though I was seeing my 5th full production of Kander and Ebb’s musical "Cabaret" (including when Joel Grey reprised his role), I was left stunned and in tears as the final blackout came in this current revival on B'Way. Alan Cummings' ever-present emcee initially embodies a raunchy, yet lovable Puck-like character through the first half of the play. Increasingly in the 2nd act, he becomes both victim and perpetrator; and his final specter gaze and portrayal is an image that will be emblazoned in my mind's eye forever. The entire production is first-rate overall with the exception of Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles, who seems often to lack both the punch and the pitch to pull off this iconic part. The exception is her 11 o'clock number of the title song "Cabaret," where she knocks the song out of the park and leaves us with a haunting look of red-eyed horror as Sally finally sees the Nazi horror about to descend on her make-believe world. Closes March 29, 2015.

3. "Here Lies Love" (David Byrne & Fatboy Slim; Public Theatre)
If we had only seen one show this year in NYC, this is the one I would not have wanted to miss. "Here Lies Love" is a genuine hit that is about to explode on the national and international stage (slated to play on several continents in the coming year). First, the story is the Marcos/Imelda/Aquino drama many of us watched from afar in the late 20th Century; and the familiar faces, voices, and scenes come to life both in the actors and in the vintage video surrounding the audience on all sides. The show is an immersive theatrical dance club experience with a narrative, the life of a charismatic president’s wife, reminiscent of “Evita.” The music is pounding & pulsating ... and totally hummable as the audience leaves. The stages shift among the standing audience (who shift positions, too) -- an audience that becomes both the adoring and later protesting throngs of Marcos. Live broadcasts, actors on all four sides and in the middle, incredible music, a light show that never ceases, intricate logistics performed seamlessly, with every minute of the 90 counting for something ... all this and more make "Here Lies Love" a must-see. A national tour will begin in 2015 in San Francisco! Closes January 3, 2015.

4. "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder" (Freedman & Lutvak; Walter Kerr Theatre)
There are many reasons to rave about and love the 2014 Tony Best Musical "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder." To me, the funniest aspect is that this very British-like parody set in 1909 London is that it is written and scored by Americans who are neophytes on the B'Way stage. Beyond that, seeing Jefferson Mays become 8 different members of the D'Ysquith family (all who will spend only a short time on stage before meeting their demise, usually at the hands of their distant cousin Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham)) is hilarious and amazing. Ed & I could only surmise he must have had 5 dressers working on him for his quick personality and total costume/wig/etc. changes (often in mere seconds, it seemed).
This is a rib-ticker, for sure, and a musical not to be missed. Is it going to stand the test of time to be worthy of its "Best Musical" title? Not sure about that. I would have leaned toward "Beautiful" myself if I had been voting this year. But I totally recommend seeing it. There is nothing else quite like the silly antics and joyous murders occurring presently on the B'Way stage.

5. "The Last Ship" (Sting, Logan & Yorkey; Neil Simon Theatre)
Don't go to "The Last Ship" expecting today's usual great-abs, little-clothed chorus boys. The guys in this show are burly, working-class (in appearance) and sing/dance with gusto, stomp, and ale-filled fervor. Sting's music has a Celtic flavor, is more "Once" than "Book of Mormon," and often captures well the flavor of the story and moves it along with zeal. Somewhat allegorical, often Biblical (think prodigal son seeking forgiveness, redemption, and even ascension to heaven), "The Last Ship" also is about many aspects of love, about regret, and about reconciliation. All this occurs in the framework of a suffering, poor community whose main industry and source of pride (ship-building) is dying but a community that defies death to seek its own, somewhat fantastical salvation. The packed, preview audience bought it. They appeared to love it. I really like it, too. Opens October 26. Open-Ended.

6. "Aladdin" (Menken, Ashman, Rice & Beguelin; New Amsterdam Theatre)
There are 3 big reasons to see Disney's "Aladdin." The huge production numbers throughout the show are over-the-top -- full of color, costume, and choreography. The magic carpet is a character unto itself, and I really have no idea how it flies. And the really BIG reason to see this show is our TheatreWorks pal and Tony Award winner, James Monroe Iglehart. As the Genie, he is beyond words. His unbounded energy, incredible dance moves, spontaneous wit, genuine heart, and powerful voice are all worth the price of the ticket.
On the downside, the book is really sappy and at times, just bad. And Courtney Reed as Jasmine at times does that B'Way diva screaming a bit too much as she sings her songs (something we seem to have heard way too much this year, frankly). But the faults are far outweighed by the pluses. I am really glad we went to this extravaganza of a show. It was fun, fun, fun. Don't worry if you don't have a child to take with you. The kid in us all will love every minute. Open-Ended.

7. "If/Then" (Kitt & Yorkey; Richard Rodgers Theatre)
I am not sure I have ever seen any more complicated musical than "If/Then," and I doubt any two audience members left having seen exactly the same story and play. Idina Menzel, LaChance, Anthony Rapp, James Snyder, and more bring incredible voices to beautiful anthems and dynamic explosions of sight and sound as they explore 'what if' this happened or that happened or something else happened in one's life. All that imagining we each sometimes do in our heads gets played out in intertwining story lines before our eyes. The result may be confusing at times, but the effect is mesmerizing and moving.
Menzel, Repp and director Michael Greif were originally part of “Rent," the musical of pre-Giuliani New York bohemians. They are reunited in this post-Bloomberg NY where they are still tackling issues of sexuality, substance abuse, affordable housing and selling out to “the man.”
As long as Menzel stays in the cast, this show will probably have a good run. If she leaves, look for a quick closing. Open-Ended.
Note: We purposely did not see "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" (King, Goffin, Mann, Weill & McGrath; Stephen Sondheim Theatre) because we saw the world premiere in San Francisco. We would heartily recommend it and would have placed it far up on this list. Through a scheduling change by the theatre, we missed seeing "Hedwig & the Angry Itch" (Trask & Mitchell; Belasco Theatre), although we have also seen a couple, past wonderful, non-Broadway productions in San Francisco. Both are open-ended.

OUR 2014 NEW YORK PLAYS (that are still playing)
1. "It's Only a Play" (McNally; Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre)
Can you imagine laughing so much for almost 3 hours that exhaustion and fatigue is the outcome? Just look at this cast! 6 of the 7 are stars we all know from many venues, and the 7th being introduced in this production (Micah Stock) turns out to have some of the funniest moments in the play! Set in the pent-house bedroom of a rich, first-time, B'Way producer, "It's Only a Play" is raucous, rip-roaringly funny, and often also very poignant. Each actor enters through the bedroom's double doors and stops the action of the play due to the audience's thunderous applause. Nathan Lane rips himself and every known actor/actress with a tongue that is sharp and biting yet lovable. Never have I seen any actress funnier than Stockard Channing is. Matthew Broderick is perfect as the playwright nervously waiting and then tragically receiving the opening night's reviews. And I could go on and on about all the others on stage (F. Murray Abraham, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint).
Each aspect of the theatre (actors, directors, back stage folk, audience, critics) is satirized and sainted in this soaring tribute to the risks and follies of writing, producing, directing, and starring in live theatre. Crowds were begging for tickets the night of the last preview. Look for impossible-to-get tickets for this limited run. Closes January 4, 2015.

2. "The Country House" (Margulies; Manhattan Theatre Club)
Blythe Danner and a stellar cast shine in Donald Margulies' new, limited-run play about a family of actors. Like all families who gather together for a summer reunion, sh-t starts to happen. Secrets, old hurts, new bondings, unresolved issues, and fond remembrances all mingle into a delicious 2.5 hours that the audience really wants to go on for much longer. This is a play I hope a Bay Area group will pick up in the next year or so. Closes December 9, 2014.

3. "Disgraced" (Akhtar; Lyceum Theatre)
A few months ago, I read breathlessly the script of the 2013 Pulitzer-winning "Disgraced" (by Ayad Akhtar). Watching the words and actions played out real-time is almost too much to bear. Every ethnic button, every terrorist fear, every unspoken prejudice that we never dare speak even to ourselves is said, often shouted in yet another dinner-party-drama gone amuck. Further, the play even becomes more timely after the past few awful weeks of NFL spousal abuse inactions. Rarely have I heard an audience gasp in horror (and probable shocked disgust) as occurs at one moment in this taut, tight 85-minute drama. As audience, we are lured in to like and admire these five, very charming, witty, handsome characters. But one by one, each reveals aspects maybe just too familiar to too many of us.
Can I recommend it? Is drama meant to cause unease at times, to stimulate questions and conversations, to lead the audience to reconsider personal shadows and unspoken beliefs? Then, yes. It is a play to be reckoned with. No, you will not leave feeling very uplifted. As our friend Jim Reber says of the purpose of theatre, "Sometimes it's just 'hold the mirror up to life,' and what we see isn't so pretty." Open-Ended.

4. "You Can't Take It with You" (Hart & Kaufman; Longacre Theatre)
No matter how many times I see Lucy Ricardo in the chocolate factory, I die laughing each time. And, no matter how many times I see Hart's & Kaufman's "You Can't Take It With You," I still bust a gut over and again -- especially in Act 2 just before I know the Kirby family is about to ring the doorbell for dinner at the Sycamores', one night too early.
This production lives up to the long line of hilarious outings of this 1936 comedy. Having James Earl Jones lead the cast of 20 as Grandfather is just the icing on the cake. The antics are many by the minute; the situations, zany beyond belief; the love of family, spilling forth throughout. And what is it about Grandpa's final prayer? Every time I hear it, I tear up despite myself. "You Can't Take It With You" is an American treasure that I personally treasure each time I see it. Closes January 4, 2015.

5. "This Is Our Youth" (Lonergan; Cort Theatre)
"This Is Our Youth" returns us to our late teens/early twenties when everything seemed possible and nothing worked out, when one moment we were soaring on life and the next moment we were ready to jump the bridge, and when in a split second a best friend became the scorn of hormonal rage and the next moment, the closest thing to real love we had ever felt.
Three young people in 1982 dance their lives together at rave-like, drug-induced pace in a NYC apartment as they insanely approach and avoid real connections. The comedy is both funny and sad. It reminds us all of those moments in our past that we could never imagine being our parents and yet can hardly stand to be ourselves.
I walked away a bit bewildered and out of sorts. Nothing much is resolved. We as audience witness a slice of life that many of us had all but forgotten yet so quickly and deeply remembered. This is a play that deserves more attention and production across the land. Closes January 4, 2015.

THE NOW-CLOSED PRODUCTIONS WE SAW
--> "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" (Robertson)
Ed and I have traveled coast to coast to see Audra McDonald on stage: Musical theatre, opera, and in concert. If I had not known ahead of time that the star of "Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill" was Ms. McDonald, I am not sure that I could have identified the person on stage as she. Audra became Billie Holiday in every respect: posture, looks, language, and voice. Positioned as one of her last concerts, the musical invites us as audience to witness the painful demise of one of the greatest singers ever as drugs and alcohol win the ultimate battle. It actually hurt at times to watch what was so realistically happening before us; and at the same time, it was magnificent. We got a glimpse of how much Billie soared when she was totally on her game, and we saw what a tragedy she became toward the end.
Did Audra deserve a 6th Tony Award for this performance? Oh my, yes. She probably deserved 6 Tonys JUST for this performance. I am not sure I have ever seen a better singular performance. We were lucky to see the closing night. I am sorry for everyone who did not get to see her perform in this wonderful musical, for I am sure that I will never forget the emotions -- high and low -- of being there.

--> "Bauer" (Gunderson)
This has been "The Year of Lauren Gunderson" for us. The prolific and profound playwright raised the curtain on 4 SF Bay Area stages during a very short time in past 15 months or so. Our favorite, "Bauer," staged by our adored San Francisco Playhouse, made its way to Off-Broadway with its two outstanding Bay Area actresses (Susi Damilano and Stacy Ross) & its director and set designer Bill English, and was joined by B'Way stalwart Sherman Howard in the lead role (whom we have seen in all his past B'Way shows). We loved this production in SF; and with Mr. Howard, it was even better in NYC.
I am a firm believer in telling the untold stories of history, and this is one of the most intriguing and sad stories of modern art history. The story portrays one of the most important 20th Century artists and visionaries for whom the Guggenheim Museum in NYC was built to house his art. German émigré and painter Rudolf Bauer was tricked by the fellow German artist and love of his life, Hilla von Rebay, into signing a contract that gave Solomon R. Guggenheim the legal rights to all of his paintings and any future works he created. Real-life family drama intervened, and his art in toto was condemned by Guggenheim's heirs to the museum's basement (some of which was finally sold to others over the decades to follow, some of which still remains in the basement). This powerful drama tells that story with exceptionally well-written and acted script and beautiful staging. Both times I saw this on both coasts, audiences left stunned, saying, "How come I did not know about this?" While closed in SF 7 NYC, this play should be appearing (my guess) all across the country and beyond in the next few years.

--> "I Am Harvey Milk" (Lippa)
"I Am Harvey Milk" weaves the story of Harvey Milk’s life – from boyhood to his rise as the first openly gay man to hold public office to his assassination. Part choral work, part theater piece, the show is an emotional celebration of an American icon. Having sung Andrew Lippa's "I Am Harvey Milk" in choruses of 300 (SFGMC's world premiere in June 2013) and of 550 (in LA this past July with LAGMC), I was not sure how it would be to sit in as an audience member at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. In one word: Fabulous! I heard parts and sections I did not know existed. I was struck in new ways with new emotions about the power of Harvey's life and message. Kristin Chenoweth was over-the-top wonderful as Harvey's mother. Andrew Lippa once again sang with depth, heart and emotion. And the 125-voice Broadway Chorus (all professionals from shows on and off B-Way) was gorgeous in every respect.

--> "Have You Heard" (Miss Coco Peru)
Reprising bits of her past, all-scripted shows from the past 24 years, Miss Coco Peru's "Have You Heard" is full of what she does best: telling stories. Touted as the best living story-teller by Lily Tomlin, Coco keeps her audience in stitches as she recounts events of her life. She also sings with a voice as wonderful today as I have ever heard it. She doles out advice as only she can and in the end, touches and warms your heart. We are privileged to know her and her husband Rafael, and I encourage everyone (gay and straight) to go see a show of hers when in your neck of the woods. Check out some of her videos at https://www.youtube.com/user/themisscocoperu.

Along with the above shows, we saw the outstanding Jeff Koons exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which unfortunately closes this weekend. We also visited MOMA and the Guggenheim (the latter, a true disappointment -- for the third time in our visits to NYC).
We eat only near the theaters, and this year discovered a new-to-us place where we ate twice and totally recommend: etcetera etcetera, 352 W. 44th. We also particularly adore Blue Fin on Broadway, where we also dined twice. Other places we particularly enjoyed included Bocca Bacco on 9th and Swing 46 on 46th.