I know that I recently talked about seeing multiple shows back to back and how I don't like it. Well... I somehow managed to see three shows this past weekend, Debbie Allen's staging of an all African-American production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the new Off-Broadway transfer Passing Strange, and the so-sweet-it'll-give-you-a-cavity, Legally Blonde.
Usually when I see multiple shows in a close amount of time, they always end up, sometimes surprisingly, having themes that somehow reinforce one another. (The similarities of Steppenwolf's epic drama August: Osage County Second Stages' rock musical Next to Normal are remarkable) but I was at a loss at trying to put these three together :)
This revival of Cat is fairly straight forward. The only difference is the use of an all African-American cast. Terrance Howard is making his theatrical debut as Brick. Anika Noni Rose is Maggie, and Phylicia Rashad and James Earl Jones as Big Mama and Big Papa.
So, basically... the cast is great. I went in loving everyone before I even saw it. It was too cool to see all these people live. But as the play went on and I became less star struck, to my surprise, they were all great!
The use of an all African-American cast is an interesting one. The first time this has been done on Broadway, but there have been some all-Black casts at some professional regional productions. What was interesting about it was the fact that it didn't really change anything all that much. I expected possibly some new light to be shed on the characters, but besides a few lines here and their taking on a new meaning, not much changed. I mean... what did I expect? I don't know. And I'm not really complaining. Because just the chance to see these actors do these roles was such a treat.
I hope Terrance Howard comes back to theatre. While his Brick was very good, Brick doesn't do a lot to talking. Mostly listening... It would be nice to see him in a more active role.
After the matinee of Cat, I saw Passing Strange in the evening. I was very excited about seeing this show as I heard really good things about it when it played at the Public last year, but missed it. So I jumped at the chance to see it now on Broadway.
The show is a new rock musical that follows a young singer/songwriter as he finds himself and his voice as he grows up in Los Angeles, then moves to Amsterdam, Berlin and then eventually comes back.
A coming of age story isn't new ground by any means, but what makes this story remarkable is the way that it's told. Half rock concert, half play, the band is on stage surrounding the actors who play around them. There is no set, just a few chairs. (and I realize that the whole no-set-just-chairs-and-band-on-stage thing isn't really new either, but this just feels so fresh!)
The show is oddly postmodern and so groundbreaking, not the kind of thing you expect to see on Broadway. And I don't mean that as an intentional knock at commercial theatre. But the show is so cool and so different then everything else out there! The music is great, and despite my grumblings about rock musicals (see here) it works really well.
The show is narrated by the guitar player and composer, Stew (gotta love anyone with one name), who sometimes steps in for his younger self to sing major songs. It is a convention that turns out to be extremely powerful at times.
This is first show that I'm really excited for this year. I just hope it's able to find an audience. It's not a traditional show, and isn't going to attract a traditional audience. But I'm sure once the reviews come out it'll be packed, as when I saw it Saturday night there were some empty seats.
At Legally Blonde meanwhile, there was hardly an empty seat Sunday night. I've seen Blonde before, (and on MTV) a co-worker's husband got free tickets, and she invited me to come, and I'm not going to pass up a free show!
And the show was fine, not spectacular, but full of energy and bubble gum gusto you can't help but smile at times. If you've only seen it on MTV I will say it's much better in person. Christian Borle is a fantastic actor and I fell in love with him all over again as Emmet (the Luke Wilson character in the movie.) Laura Bell Bundy as Elle Woods was satisfactory, but her voice was so shot by Sunday night (Legally Blonde has a four show weekend) that I just felt bad for her. Take the matinees off girl!
I'm going to see In the Heights this Tuesday. It's no secret to the people who know me, that I love this show. I can only hope that being in a big Broadway house doesn't change the show too much.