All right, you missed MACBETH, PLAZA SUITE and AMERICAN BUFFALO, which all finished their runs as scheduled on July 10.
Okay, you also lost your chance at PARADISE SQUARE, which had hoped to run longer, but called it a life on July 17.
Still, if you and your family are traveling to New York in what remains of the summer, Broadway does have plenty from which to choose. If you’re coming for the first time, don’t miss the opportunity to see The Old Reliables – musicals that have been around for years if not decades. They must have something, mustn’t they?
In order of longevity:
Years ago, I took my son to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Jason was a teen at the time, obsessed with his garage band. He’d give me tapes of his sessions which he and his comrades, to borrow a phrase from author Russell Greenan, “sounded like four hermaphrodites wailing in hell.” Every time he sent me a new recording, I’d put it in my stereo system, and before pressing the “Play” button, I’d say to myself, “Now I’ve got to face the music …”
What’s my point? As soon as PHANTOM’s first act ended, Jason turned to me with genuine admiration in his eyes and voice. “This isn’t my type of music,” he felt the need to say first, “but I can tell it’s really, really good.”
So even if your daughters and sons are rabid fans of Imagine Dragons and Young Thug, they may second Jason’s motion that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is “really, really good.” They might even say it’s better than that. And what a splendiferous eyefeast!
They might even like CHICAGO, although John Kander and Fred Ebb’s score is from the theatrical era known as vaudeville. Bob Fosse shrewdly decided that the story of an adulterous woman who killed her lover because he was dumping her – and the naïve husband who still cared for her – wouldn’t be characters we could get behind in a realistic musical. Doing it as a series of vaudeville numbers would take away the gritty realism and stress sheer entertainment.
Underlining that how no type of entertainment can stay popular forever, our murderess and her equally guilty comrade sing “In 50 years or so, it’s gonna change, you know.” And it has. THE LION KING is good indication of that with its pop rock score.
Yes, in many ways, it’s a great show, but if you’re a parent who cares to avoid the vulgar, be aware that THE LION KING offers many jokes about flatulence. And what would Walt Disney, the company’s founder, have thought of this? What is certain is that he would have never approved of one character saying, “I need to be bucked up,” only to have another answer, “You’ve already bucked up royally.” That joke depends on one’s knowledge of a famous four-letter word. Disney, ever the champion of family entertainment, wouldn’t have wanted to see little kids turning to their parents and saying, “I don’t get it” – forcing either an explanation or finesse.
Perhaps you won’t want your kids turning to you and asking the same question.
Now that that warning’s out of the way, let’s acknowledge that Julie Taymor’s vision and design are beyond any reproach. Take it from someone who’s seen 80%-90% of the Broadway musicals of the last 60 years: “The Circle of Life” – in which Taymor’s stylized “animals” march down the theater’s aisles and onto the stage – ranks as one of the ten greatest opening numbers I’ve ever seen.
Long-time Broadway observer Howard Gradet once said “You can’t go 48 hours without running into some reference to THE WIZARD OF OZ.” That’s even less subject to questioning since 2003, when WICKED opened.
Considering how expensive theater tickets continue to be, theatergoers aren’t q-u-i-t-e as resentful of the price if they can see that money on the stage. WICKED will put you at ease as soon as you walk in and see the proscenium arch covered with a myriad of objects that show the Land of Oz. A dragon’s head in dead-center is the theatrical equivalent of a cherry atop a sundae.
If you’ve read Gregory Maguire’s novel, you’ll see how brilliant a job Winnie Holzman did when condensing the dense first chapter. Composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz gave Elphaba – the future Wicked Witch of the West – a magnificent song in “The Wizard and I.” Not since Ariel sang “Part of Your World” in THE LITTLE MERMAID has there been such a bolt-of-lightning moment when we immediately and squarely land on a character’s side.
Her nemesis (but only for now) is Galinda, who has her own earworm to deliver in “Popular.” This song has often been said to be a large component of WICKED’s success, because many teen girls identify with outcast Elphaba – and yearn to get the admiration that a pretty blonde usually receives. Young misses also like that the two adversaries learn to genuinely care and value each other, giving the hope such a fate is in store for them. Take your teen daughters.
THE BOOK OF MORMON? It’s a smash hit but it’s no family show. A vulgarism for vagina is used quite a bit, and those who are squeamish won’t take to the many mentions of female circumcision. (Under these circumstances, are you surprised to hear that the brains behind SOUTH PARK created it?)
If you’re a fan of that series and those movies, then wait until you come to New York without the kids to celebrate a silver or golden anniversary. THE BOOK OF MORMON will still be here.
But if you are here with very little kids, you couldn’t pick a better first-ever show for them than ALADDIN. Young children love anachronisms – “They didn’t have those things then!” they knowingly chortle – and this musical almost manages to touch every alphabetical base in low-comedy wordplay.
Aside from “X,” bookwriter Chad Beguelin gave the middle eastern tale of yore “Ally ally oxen free,” “bubeleh,” Cleveland, disinfectant, “Everything’s cool,” Freebie, glass menagerie, Hawaii, Ix-nay, “just a gland problem,” Karma, lot of pressure, maitre ‘d., “No way,” “Okay,” pyramid scheme, quandary, red-hot tabouli, Shriners, “Tom, Dick or Hassim,” “uno, dos,” valets, “Whatever,” “You wrote the book” and zoot suit.
To be fair, Beguelin inherited some of these from the film, and yes, a zoot suit is only seen and not mentioned. And that missing “x” could be said to represent the great x-citement that ALADDIN offers. Still, it’s so cartoonish that you might expect a character to smash through a wall and leave his exact body-shape as the hole.
One song written for the 1992 original film but dropped has been reinserted: “Proud of Your Boy.” Aladdin says that he wants to achieve great things, not solely for himself but also to please his parents. That’s a good value and one your kids should hear.
There are plenty of other shows in town, of course. And wouldn’t it be nice if you and your family could see more of them? Whatever the case, consider this a good starter kit if you’re coming to Broadway for the first time.