By William Wolf
SPRING AWAKENING (2015) Send This Review to a Friend
The new Deaf West Theatre production of the musical “Spring Awakening,” with a mix of deaf, speaking and singing performers, has nothing gimmicky about it. It stands majestically as a powerful revival, enhanced by its concept and the vigorus staging by director Michael Arden and choreography to match by Spencer Liff.
I have previously reviewed the past off-Broadway and Broadway versions, each with enthusiasm (See Search), but this production is a welcome, fresh experience in its interpretation of the musical, which has book and lyrics by Steven Sater, music by Duncan Sheik, and is based on the then controversial 19th century German play by Frank Wedekind.
At first it takes a bit of getting used to in overcoming the tendency to concentrate on differentiating between the actors doing the voices and the non-speaking actors playing the roles. There is a mix of signing, singing and talking, and sometimes the lines are projected on a screen in the rear. But it doesn’t take long to settle in, go with the set-up and admire everyone taking part, from the principals to those pitching in with supporting roles and admirable choral work.
The story, as many may already know, is about youth revolting and trying find themselves in a repressive society, with a teacher sternly wielding a cane and a mother too embarrassed to tell an inquiring daughter how babies are made. The effects in such a society can be devastating for young folk, and Wedekind was ahead of his time in trying to point out the dangers. The musical does it with an abundance of songs, including the captivating, amusing number, “Totally F—ked,” expressing the youthful plight.
The daughter shielded from the facts of life is Wendla Bergmann, played most expressively by Sandra Mae Frank, who is deaf, with her voice provided in speech and song by the wonderful Katie Boeck. Wendla becomes sweet on the young Moritz Stiefel, played with sensitivity and passion by deaf Daniel N. Durant, whose voice is given us by Alex Boniello. When Wendla and Moritz become lovers, impending tragedy looms.
Hearing actor Austin P. McKenzie plays the tragic role of Melchior Gabor, who is a friend of Moritz and who becomes desperately unhappy at his lot in life, a key example of youthful struggle. Distinguished actress Marlee Matlin plays three roles, and her presence, given her long being in the forefront of non-hearing actors, provides a symbolic note to this production.
There is lots of movement about the stage throughout, giving the show an energetic flow. Some band members are perched on a second tier and other music is provided by some of the cast members. The choral work adds power, and the score veers from being melodic to dramatically intense.
Before the actual story begins, we see the actors clad in white undergarments milling about the stage and then getting into their appropriate costumes. When all is over at the end of the show, we see them undress into their original whites, which strikes me as an unnecessary frill, carried into the curtain call.
But let’s not quibble. The Deaf West Theatre version does exquisite justice to “Spring Awakening” and emerges as an exciting revival in the new season. At the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-719-4099. Reviewed October 2, 2015.
THE QUARE LAND Send This Review to a Friend
Awards nominators looking for outstanding male performances should get to the Irish Repertory Theatre to catch the hilarious Peter Maloney as a sharp-tongued, continuously prattling old recluse who is also sly when he learns someone wants something of his and is willing to pay dearly for it.
Playwright John McManus has a devilish sense of humor and his nutty play “The Quare Land,” set in 2012 in a County Cavan, Ireland, farmhouse, is a barrel of laughs, thanks both to his outrageously funny lines and Maloney’s canny performance that never lets up. He plays Hugh Pugh, who owns lots of land and only several cows, keeps to himself and never reads his mail, piled up through the years.
When we meet him he is soaking in his grimy-looking bathtub in his dilapidated bathroom that indicates the ramshackle condition of his farm house. We learn that he hasn’t taken a bath in four years, which leaves a lot of scrubbing to do. He has a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that leads to his filthy toilet and lifts bottles of beer cooling inside it, then delivers it to him in his bath, which he never leaves.
The plot that the author has concocted involves Rob McNulty, a real estate promoter, marvelously played by Rufus Collins with mounting frustration and increasing incredulity with respect to Pugh. McNulty arrives at the farm unannounced with the mission of buying land that Pugh doesn’t even know he owns so that a nine-hole golf course can be expanded into 18 holes and fit in with a luxury development. The land was left to Pugh as a way of apologizing by a man who once robbed him and then made good in America. How would Pugh know this if he never opens his mail?
Pugh barely lets McNulty get a word in edgewise as he rambles on with uproariously funny dialogue and demeanor, including barbs about how much Pugh hates his brother. When McNulty finally can break in to get down to what he wants, and Pugh realizes the urgency of the project, he becomes a wily negotiator with ever-increasing financial demands beyond what is reasonable.
Maloney is amazing as words and thoughts pour out of him throughout the play, and also conniving as he humbles his financial suitor even to the point of clipping Pugh’s toenails. Director Ciarán O’Reilly keeps the pace brisk and the monologue and dialogue rapidly confrontational, with excellent comic as well as dramatic timing. I’m not sure about the playwright’s electrifying ending, but by then we’ve already had more than enough enjoyment, and if there is a message contained in the resolution, it hardly matters. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, temporarily at the RD2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street. Reviewed October 2, 2015.
THE NEW MORALITY Send This Review to a Friend
The Mint Theater Company’s mounting of Harold Chapin’s 1911 play, “The new Morality,” deftly directly by Jonathan Bank, shows what a sad loss it was when the author, who was born in Brooklyn but grew up in London and earned renown as an actor and British playwright, was killed in battle in 1915 as a soldier in World War I. His career as well as his life was thus tragically cut short.
The Mint’s production demonstrates Chapin’s flair for character creation, witty dialogue and an awareness of the changing role for women in their effort to assert themselves more forcefully in a world dominated by men. Chapin was likely influenced by his mother, who, as reported in program notes by Maya Cantu, spent four months in prison after pouring acid into anti-suffrage ballot boxes.
“The New Morality” is a gentle play that builds to expression of its key viewpoints in the third act. Its trajectory is seductive little by little, with a methodical progression, abetted by a style of avoiding flamboyance and reliance instead on witty discourse.
The setting is a houseboat and applause is due Steven Kemp for the set design. The first act is in the houseboat’s attractive bedroom, and the scene subsequently changes to the houseboat’s deck, very convincingly shown with a spiffy and realistic scenery change. In the background is a view of the river and opposite bank. With Christian DeAngelis’s lighting, the overall effect is lovely, and Carisa Kelly’s costumes add to the period grace.
They key character is Betty Jones, played with determination and humor by the delightful Brenda Meaney. Betty has caused a minor scandal by publicly insulting a woman neighbor, whom we never meet. However, we do meet her husband, E. Wallace Wister, who is saddled with the unpleasant task of being a messenger to carry his wife’s demand that Betty apologize.
This demand is presented to Betty’s stiff-upper-lip husband, Col. Ivor Jones, played with appropriate propriety by Michael Frederic. Betty has at first concealed herself in her bedroom and firmly lets it be known that she has no intention of issuing an apology. We also meet Betty’s friend, Alice, portrayed with restraint by Clemmie Evans, and Betty’s lawyer brother, Geoffrey Belasis, King’s Counsel, played with pleasant authority by Christian Campbell. The houseboat staff members are properly acted by Douglas Rees as Wooten, the man-servant, and Kelly McCready as Lesceline, the maid.
The central joke involves two men having to be intermediaries for their wives. Betty ultimately makes an entrance at an on-deck dinner, with all assembled, and the apology issue comes to a head. Wister has had too much to drink and continues to imbibe further, and in that role Noyes seizes the opportunity to steal the show with a colorful speech that the playwright has handed him in which the “new morality” is made clear—that times are changing and women are coming more and more into their own.
Meaney as Betty completes that picture with her firm command ot the situation, and she is to be applauded for a wonderfully calibrated performance from start to finish. “The New Morality,” far from a strident work, grows on you as it stylishly moves along. What a pity that the playwright’s career was cut down at 29, one of the millions of lives wasted in World War I. At the Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-325-9434. Reviewed September 22, 2915.
COURIERS AND CONTRABANDS Send This Review to a Friend
Sometimes big plays emerge on small stages. A case in point is playwright Victor Lesniewski’s penetrating, suspenseful spy drama “Couriers and Contrabands,” probing conflicted loyalties and views on slavery during America’s Civil War. Much happens in the play, presented by The Time Line Projects, Liz Olson producer, all unfolding on the compact stage at the TBG Theatre. The flexible scenery designed by David Esler is swiftly shifted to represent two neighboring houses in 1864 on the southern outskirts of Petersburg, Virginia. Seven effective cast members provide the fireworks under the savvy direction of Kareem Fahmy.
A nest of spies is at work selling out the Southern side as a result of ideological differences. Far be it for me to divulge which participants are doing what. The play cleverly builds suspense as various actions and perpetrators are made clear and the polemics are explained in convincing dramatic outbursts. I wouldn’t want to provide spoilers.
Although Lesniewski’s take is fictional, there is inspiration in the real espionage acts that were unfolding at the time. The playwright has created characters accordingly and we get to know different sides of them.
Michael Schantz plays Thomas Montgomery, a Confederate operative, and Eric T. Miller plays James Hanson, his long-time friend and another Confederate operative. Both men give very strong, riveting performances. Jeremy Beck is intriguing as George Dunhaven, an outwardly unassuming corporal in the Confederate army who runs missions for Montgomery to provide important information in the intelligence competition. All is being played out against the background of an impending siege of Petersburg.
Montgomery’s sister, Lottie Saunders, emotionally and proudly portrayed by Heather Hollingsworth, is trying to erase danger from her mind while her husband is at war. She does not want to abandon the family home if it becomes necessary to flee. Helen Cespedes is intriguing as Heather’s pretty neighbor, Mary Gardner, whom Corporal Dunhaven finds attractive and there are amusing courtship vibes between them.
An especially meaningful performance is given by Krystel Lucas in the important role of Nancy, Lottie’s African-American housemaid. She stands around dutifully but quietly listening and observing as the men and women talk about the war and problems as if she were not there. It is a dramatic illustration of the racism that led whites to regard blacks as non-persons. Lucas gets the perfect ambiance to fit in overtly, but her expressions show us that Nancy possesses underlying substance and intelligence. When Nancy gets a chance to emote as the plot thickens, Lucas further demonstrates what a fine actress she is and how much effective stage presence she has. She also has a strong singing voice, evidenced when at one point she breaks into song.
Another key cast member is Luke Forbes as Willie, Mary’s African-American servant. We learn more about him as events unfold.
Admittedly, there are some plot contrivances, but the impressive acting and staging don’t allow us to think about them, for one is caught up in the action. It is as if we are there in those two homes and closely acquainted with the characters. Sarafina Bush does a good job with the period costume design and the sound effects (sound design and original musical by Mark Van Hare) remind us that there are armies battling nearby. At the TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street. Reviewed September 9, 2015.
LAUGH IT UP, STARE IT DOWN Send This Review to a Friend
There is pleasure in watching the four cast members in “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down,” a new work by Alan Hruska, lawyer turned playwright. They are all skilled as they wrestle with the philosophical ideas laid on them by the author, who is trying to say something about life and the obstacles in the way of finding happiness in a random world. The play is best when comedy is the vocabulary but thin in its effort to be profound.
The basic stage setting designed by Kevin Judge is an intricate background wall of windows, perhaps meant to symbolize openings on life, although they are scantily used. The playing area is employed with versatility to represent street corners, bedrooms, a terrible restaurant, a summer home, a museum in Venice and ultimately a chandelier lowered as a buoy to which the main couple cling for dear life in the wake of a storm and flood. Director Chris Eigeman keeps the events unfolding smoothly.
Jayce Bartok, plays te student Joe, who stops Katya Campell as the pretty, sophisticated anthropologist Cleo and comes on to her in an effort to start a relationship. His pitch is amusing, and she is attracted to him despite her announcement of another relationship that she has. The encounter is quite amusing, as the banter at that point is smart. Cleo cautions that having a cup of coffee together can lead to a life with marriage, children and all that follows—the whole caboodle—predicting some of what will occur in the play’s trajectory.
We then see the couple in Joe’s tiny room and there is dialogue about taking off clothes, with Cleo indicating that she would easily be willing to do so and have sex. The audience is thus teased, in that we never see disrobing or sex in our presence.
The play then follows the pattern of their lives, as they become a couple, ultimately get older and attempt to survive infidelity and the challenge of togetherness and conflicting emotional feelings. There is plenty of philosophical talk along the way but not really gripping enough to make listening worthwhile.
But both Bartok and Campell are excellent and appealing. The two other cast members, Maury Ginsberg and Amy Hargreaves are entertaining in a variety of roles that intersect with Joe and Cleo. There is one funny bit with Hargreaves as a nurse who forgetfully leaves the couple’s baby in a hospital bathroom, where she urgently went to relieve herself. There is a rather senseless scene with Ginsberg as a robber invading the couple’s home, but a more amusing one with him as a tour guide who wants to have sex with Cleo.
The verdict: An amiable but thin play enlivened by appealing actors whom one can enjoy watching even when the author’s thrusts at depth are shallow. At the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed September 9, 2015.
A DELICATE SHIP Send This Review to a Friend
It is amazing how much drama and personal background are packed into the totally absorbing, brilliantly acted “A Delicate Ship,” astutely written by Anna Ziegler and presented by The Playwrights Realm. All unfolds within a riveting intermission-less 75 minutes.
The set-up looks ever so calm at the start. In a wisely simple scenic design by Reid Thompson, we see a living room mounted on a low platform center-stage, with the soothing background of a river view. The scene is a Brooklyn apartment with a Christmas tree indicating the holiday season.
We observe Sarah (Miriam Silverman) and boyfriend Sam (Matt Dellapina) sitting on sofa for a quiet evening of togetherness. An interruption comes with knock on the door, and in bursts Nate (Nick Westrate), who lived in the same Manhattan building as Sarah, and we learn that they were long-time friends. We also learn that Nate is feverishly bent on winning her away from Sam.
The above description is totally simplified. In this play, characters speak directly to the audience, past and present are melded, and director Margot Bordelon keeps the author’s mixture flowing smoothly so that we get a perspective on the three characters in their thirties, their personas and the trajectory of their lives within the context of the drama that unfolds.
The playwright has created characters of substance, unlike plays in which we are asked to care about uninteresting people. Sarah is a social worker who at 33 is still unmarried and tells us what that means to a woman. Sam aspires to be a song writer, and Nate’s profession is teaching. All are capable of intellectual conversation about life and its meaning, and we get amusing examples in their dialogue.
What’s more, Ziegler has a gift for writing exquisite passages along the lines of Tennessee Williams’s lyricism. She is also economical in the manner in which she can cover so much territory by her free-flowing integration of moments in the present with the past, abetted by the way in which her characters step out of the action to speak effectively to us.
The three cast members are wonderfully up to the task. Silverman is lovely and believable as Sarah, who seems most likely to marry Sam and gives the impression of a warm, affectionate relationship in the making. Dellapina as Sam conveys a nice guy aura, who at first is bewildered by Nate, but shows his anger as the situation gets out of hand, and he summons the strength to fight for his relationship with Sarah.
The most dynamic performance belongs to Westrate as Nate, who step by step explodes into desperation and reveals a psychotic fixation on Sarah as the answer to is life if only she will marry him. His appearance is jolting to Sam as Nate details a sexual experience with Sarah that seems to have really occurred. Sarah, who clearly has no intention of being with Nate, tries to calm him but also has feelings for him as a friend and human being who shouldn’t be just tossed out of the apartment no matter how disruptive and dangerous he has become.
Ultimately, we learn what happens to all three, again via the playwright’s time-jumping. When the play’s 75 minutes have passed, I left astonished at all that had taken place, the expertise of the cast, the effectiveness of the writing and direction, and I pondered the what-ifs posed in the drama. As Sarah says early on, “What if we had just never opened the door?” At the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-729-4200. Reviewed August 31, 2015.
LOVE & MONEY Send This Review to a Friend
A.R. Gurney has written a breezy comedy about the immorality of wealth. His “Love & Money,” presented by the Signature Theatre and the Westport Country Playhouse, is getting an appropriately amusing staging under the direction of Mark Lamos.
The major treat is a delightful performance by Maureen Anderman as Cornelia Cunningham, a rich woman who is planning to move to a retirement home and giving away the furnishings and other contents of her Upper East Side New York brownstone, designed for the stage with elegant perfection by Michael Yeargan. Cornelia has also willed most of her fortune to various charities, including an organization dedicated to helping children and what she considers other worthy causes, such as Amnesty International.
Gurney has endowed Cornelia with a philosophy that having wealth is improper, given all those who struggle economically in the world, and that money breeds corruption and all kinds of problems. She is outspoken in her beliefs and of very sound mind. Although the serious point is made, the play proceeds in a lightweight manner with entertaining results.
The arrival of lawyer Harvey Abel, amusingly played by Joe Paulik, presents a monkey wrench into Cornelia’s will plans. She doesn’t want to deal with problems, and he is aghast at her indifference. Abel has to fight for her serious attention. He informs her that a young man from Buffalo claims that he is her grandson (she has two grandchildren) as a result of a secret affair her late daughter had with his late father and wants a piece of the coming inheritance to further his own desire of acquiring success and wealth.
Introducing himself as Walker “Scott” Williams, performed with flair and over-the-top charm by Gabriel Brown, he is an African-American, who says that his African-American father raised him together with his understanding wife rather than Cornelia’s daughter going through with an abortion when she became pregnant.
Abel spots him as a phony and con artist, but whatever the savvy Cornelia may think, she takes to Walker, who opens a window of pleasure into her life. All this happens very quickly and improbably, but also enjoyably, thanks to Gurney’s wit and the acting. Pamela Dunlap is colorful as Cornelia’s long-time housekeeper and cook, and Kahyun Kim is pleasing as Jessica Worth, a Julliard student looking over Cornelia’s player piano, containing a trove of Cole Porter songs, as a possible gift to Julliard. She also attracts the romantic eye of Walker.
What happens? Suffice it to say that DNA testing will not be necessary.
Anderman carries off the demanding performance as the likable Cornelia in great style, leaving the impression of her being a WASP with a conscience, as well as with a bright, wise sense of humor mingled with sadness in looking back on her life and what happened to her son and daughter. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed Augst 27th, 2015.
INFORMED CONSENT Send This Review to a Friend
Science and ethics clash intriguingly in Deborah Zoe Laufer’s smart, unusual play jointly presented by Primary Stages and the Ensemble Studio Theatre. From the superior acting to the inventive staging by director Liesl Tommy everything clicks into place to create a worthwhile work that raises serious questions and is also timely against the background of intense genetic research being done today in quest of greater knowledge.
The story is said to have been inspired by a court case involving a university and a Native Ameican tribe based in the Grand Canyon. At the core of “Informed Consent” is Jillian, a gung-ho genetic anthropologist enlivened into a believable character by Tina Benko, with quirky physical gestures and an impassioned manner of speaking as if every moment in her life and career counted desperately. She is obsessed with her work at a large Arizona university for personal reasons, but an even broader quest leads her into ethical problems that she doesn’t want to acknowledge.
On the personal side, Jillian is troubled because her mother died of early Alzheimer’s. Jillian fears that she might have inherited the gene and passed it along to her young daughter and is bent on discovering the truth.
Meanwhile, she has embarked upon a project of investigating genetic reasons why a local Indian tribe has such a high level of diabetes. Getting cooperation has been difficult, as the tribe considers its blood sacred and great effort must be made before the tribe representative, Arella, passionately portrayed by Delanna Studi, will go to bat for the study and convince tribal leaders to authorize blood sampling.
Jillian then dishonestly parlays the study into something unauthorized, going beyond the diabetes project and using the blood to trace the tribe’s origins, with results that contradict tribal beliefs. All hell breaks loose in the wake of the betrayal. But Jillian persists in her arrogant view that science is all that matters and anything goes in its pursuits.
In the upheaval that occurs, there is determination by the Indian tribe and the anthropologist, Ken, played earnestly by Jesse J. Perez, who gave Jillian her assignment, to have the blood returned and the results destroyed. Reference is made in the play to the immorality of the Nazi experiments and the notorious experiment tracing the results of inflicted syphilis on black prisoners without their consent. The moral issue is made clear.
The five-member cast includes Pun Bandhu as Graham, Jillian’s husband, and Myra Lucretia Taylor as the university’s no-nonsense Dean Hagan. There are moments when the audience is addressed directly, symbolizing everyone’s membership in the overall genetic pool. Wilson Chin’s set design and Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s projection design combine to suggest a genetic universe.
Even though only 90 minutes long without an intermission, “Informed Consent” effectively addresses important, expansive ideas brought dramatically to life. At the Duke, on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street. Phone: 646-223-3010. Reviewed August 23rd, 2015.
JOHN Send This Review to a Friend
Although meticulously staged by director Sam Gold and effectively acted by the four-member cast, “John,” a Signature Theatre presentation written by talented playwright Annie Baker, is largely an extended bore at three hours an fifteen minutes including two intermissions and seemingly longer. The two older characters, played by appealing Georgia Engel and Lois Smith, are weirdly amusing, but the young characters are painfully uninteresting in their misery.
Baker may be after some philosophical concepts with gibberish about minds being inhabited and thoughts about being mystically watched over. Mysterious occurrences like Christmas tree lights unexpectedly going on and off and a player piano suddenly starting to deliver music perhaps have a meaning. The set, designed by Mimi Lien, is a living room and dining area overstuffed with bric-a-brac, including lit-up little houses, enough of them to supply a lifetime of models for productions of Edward Albee’s “Tiny Alice.”
The location is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Georgia Engel as Mertis runs a bed and breakfast. In an initially charming but subsequently annoying gimmick, Mertis pulls the curtain open to reveal her home, and subsequently pulls it shut to end each of three acts. The beginning of the play is excruciating in its pauses with nothing significant happening, pauses that can make those of a Harold Pinter work look speedy. The play was getting on my nerves before anything really got going.
An unmarried couple arrives at the bed and breakfast—Elias Schreiber Hoffman (Christopher Abbott) and Jenny Chung (Hong Chau). It gradually becomes apparent that they have been having relationship problems. (Is the Gettysburg historic Civil War battle location meant to symbolize the couple’s strife? If so, that’s pretentious overkill, to say the least.) Elias indicates being consumed by paranoia, convinced that Jenny is a perpetual liar, while she rebels at his suspicions. The problem is that one can be hard-pressed to give a damn about either of them, especially as their angst escalates.
The play gets a lift with the arrival of Mertis’s friend Genevieve, who is blind. Smith makes her intriguing as she talks about how having left her husband, John, she felt as though he was still inhabiting her mind and judging her for years afterward. The playwright gives Genevieve a post-second act speech to the audience about her life and Lois Smith, a veteran play-stealer, makes the most of it. Her presence helps suggest a mystical edge, as does Mertis with her reactions to Elias when he opens up to her about his problems. Also, Mertis talks limitedly of her ill husband upstairs somewhere in the house, although we never meet him.
The production and performances seem faithful to what must be on Baker’s mind with this opus, but while one can admire the acting and staging, the result can try one’s patience. I also am getting tired of plays that highlight problems of young, uninteresting and sometimes exasperating characters thrashing around in their unhappiness. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed August 21, 2015.
HAMILTON (BROADWAY) Send This Review to a Friend
Seeing “Hamilton” for a second time after having reviewed it at the Public Theater (see Search), I not only find it dazzles on Broadway, but it offers an opportunity to pay closer attention to what makes the musical click so formidably. The first time around one gets an overall view of its creativity. In a second viewing one can concentrate more on the details of the music, the rap lyrics and the production. The genius of the idea for the show, with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars impressively as Alexander Hamilton, emerges with greater impact.
Who would have thought that you could take American history and package the founding fathers interracially and express their battle for independence with rap and hip-hop? Miranda did, and his foresight is being validated anew. On this return to the show I was able to listen more attentively to the lyrics, which rush at us with the breakneck speed of the show as a whole. They are oh-so clever, from the rhyming to the content, and at times speak to the present, as with the emphasized point that Hamilton was an immigrant. Take that, Donald Trump.
In addition to concentrating on the major characters, on this occasion I was able to more closely scan the great chorus of supporting dancers and singers and further appreciate them as individuals. They are amazing for how hard they work, handle the rapid costume changes and help give the show its perpetual momentum, with the wonderful choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and astute direction by Thomas Kail. Except for some well-delineated moments when the musical wisely slows for scenes with emotional pull, “Hamilton” is in constant motion.
The novelty of the casting also seems more natural in a repeat viewing. Leslie Odom, Jr. is fabulous as Aaron Burr, who in reference to Hamilton says, “I’m the fool who shot him.” Daveed Diggs makes an impressive Thomas Jefferson. Okieriete Onaodowan is excellent as James Madison. And, of course, there is the magnetic Miranda in the title role.
One major change from the time I first saw the show is Jonathan Groff as King George. I came with fond memories of Brian d’Arcy James’s comically endearing portrait of the king, exasperated by and condescending to the rebels rejecting his love (sarcastically sung). It was a high point. I am happy to report that Groff, who succeeded d’Arcy James at the Public Theater and now is cavorting effetely as the British ruler is a laugh riot with his acting and singing. He is definitely a highlight of this staging.
Moving to the larger Richard Rodgers Theatre has served to give the production more breadth. The scenic design by David Korins is basically the same—a mix of walkways, staircases and a revolving center that combine to give the show range and movement, but also allow for flashes of intimacy abetted by the lighting design of Howell Binkley. If any show deserves a larger space, this one certainly does.
The key women in the saga repeat their captivating performances, Phillipa Soo as Hamilton’s wife Eliza and Renée Elise Goldsberry as her sister Angelica. Their singing continues to be first-rate, as is their penetrating acting.
I don’t want to repeat all that I wrote enthusiastically seeing “Hamilton” originally (you can get that on this site via Search). But I want to make clear how much this enthusiasm has been justified and intensified by what is going on now in the new Broadway venue. It is definitely the show to see this season. The Drama Desk, to which I belong, already gave its award to “Hamilton” as Outstanding Musical last season. Now on Broadway, “Hamilton” looms as the leading Tony Award candidate in new musical category. At the Richard Rodgers Theater, 226 West 46th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed August 20, 2015.