Just before the house lights went to half on Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, I was speaking with a colleague about London transfers and their oft-times hit or miss track record with New York audiences (think Enron). Jerusalem got generally good notices; but I gotta say, I just don't get it. The first act of this three-act, three-hour play is very funny. The second and third act unravel into a prolonged mess. The play takes place on St. George's Day, a day for local fairs and celebrating in England. The title Jerusalem is from a hymn sung in England based on a poem by William Blake. In it is celebrated the idea of heaven coming to earth.
Catch Me If You Can, the new Broadway musical is an extremely well constructed musical with a terrific cast. But the show has a couple of problems with it, for starters its book is humorless and and its songs, bland. It's based on the real-life con-man turned 30+ year crime consultant, Frank Abagnale, Jr. and the FBI agent who hunts him down. Leondardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks starred in Stephen Spielberg’s 2002 film of the same title.
Substance abuse seems to be of particular interest this season on Broadway. The Motherf**ker with the Hat, High with Kathleen Turner and Jerusalem with Mark Rylance all feature substance abuse in their plots. If you have had any experience with the illness of substance abuse, much of The Motherf**ker with the Hat will feel awfully familiar. You’ll recognize the patterns, the lies, the deceit and the do-anything-it-takes-to-get-high drive of addicts.
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, the new play by Rajiv Joseph and starring the vastly talented Robin Williams, is a haunting look at Baghdad in 2003. It takes place immediately after the American invasion. The tale is told in part by a Bengal tiger (Williams) who we get to see in both life and death. This play is full of ghosts, the least of which is the ghost of America’s involvement in a costly, elongated war. It's a point that's hard to miss in this gritty, but very funny, play.
When I first saw the movie-musical “Southpark: Bigger, Longer, Uncut,” the audience around me was laughing so hard you couldn’t hear or understand some of the lyrics. It seems I can still watch that movie and hear lines I’ve never heard before. I remember thinking, how can the best musical I’ve seen in years be an animated feature about 10-year old boys in Colorado? Now its creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker have joined Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) to top that with the new musical darling, The Book of Mormon, one of the best new musicals on Broadway in years.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical is unbelievably gay by both the 1890 Noah Webster definition AND the prevalent 21st century definition. This musical is absolutely joyous and any concern the producers have tamed the gay element of the production to make it more palatable to a New York audience are soon dispelled. This show is pure camp and you see exactly what attracted Bette Midler as a co-producer (come to think of it, you don’t get much gayer than Bette Midler, said with all due deference, of course.)