As Broadway settles in for its long-winter’s nap, it can be a great time to visit the Great White Way. After the Tony Awards, Broadway shows ride the wave for a bit before announcing original cast departures and closing dates. No worries, they’re just gearing up for the next batch of shows (with many opening this fall and early next year).
But here is a quick recap of some that are still playing and/or setting out on tour, based on performances seen in August.
"Hamilton" — Not a lot more needs to be said about this mega-blockbuster that has changed the face of theater as we know it. Inspired by the best-selling biography “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, this version will leave your head spinning and your feet tapping. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose name has become synonymous with every possible award available, has created a true masterpiece that continues to inspire. The Chicago production opened last month to sold-out audiences, and the tour will be stopping in Salt Lake City during the 2017-18 season.
The Broadway production holds up well, though the cast performing on Broadway in August had some small gaps. There can be a funny adjustment period when longtime or original cast members leave a show. What’s interesting is watching the veterans perform with the newer cast members. There is a difference in confidence level that can seep into the story.
Seth Stewart as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was no match for Renee Elise Goldsberry, who was finishing up her Tony Award-winning run as Angelica.
That said, the show is a remarkable offering of creative genius. The Chicago cast has been well-received, and as producers begin casting for the touring company, Salt Lake is sure to be in for a real treat.
"Hamilton" includes strong language, battle scenes and drinking.
"Waitress" — Opening on Broadway in April this year, the Sara Bareilles musical is an adaptation of the 2007 film starring Keri Russel. Tony Award-winner Jessi Mueller belts out the Bareilles tunes with an incredible amount of heart. She’s genuine and honest in her portrayal of a downtrodden waitress who finds herself unwittingly pregnant by her brute of a husband (Nick Cordero, the original cast member, has been replaced by William Popp).
Mueller is still with the show, as is Drew Gehling, who plays her doctor. His quirky presence, awkward interactions, sweet tenor voice and warmth are very engaging. Gehling and Mueller play off each other nicely with a real believability.
Ogie is played by multiple award winner/nominee Christopher Fitzgerald, and he completely steals the show. “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” and “I Love You Like a Table” are true showstoppers. The other waitresses, Keala Settle and "Glee" star Jenna Ushkowitz, have left the show, and newcomers are now in the roles.
But "Waitress" is still not to be missed and is sure to tug at your heartstrings. It contains mild language and sexual situations as well as references and depictions of love affairs that are not overly graphic.
"Beautiful" — This show is really just that: beautiful. From the costumes to the sets to the performances, "Beautiful" will likely move you to tears more than once. Based on the life, times and music of one of our country's most prolific songwriters, Carole King, "Beautiful," which opened in 2013, is not only a bit of a coming-of-age story, but it's also the story of her longtime writing partner, Gerry Goffin, and their songwriting friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil ("You've Lost That Loving Feeling," "On Broadway").
"Beautiful" takes you from the glory days of songwriters in cubicles struggling to find the next hit sound to King's appearance at Carnegie Hall as a solo artist. If you grew up in the era, you'll likely wax nostalgic for the clothing and sets of the time. But even those who didn't live through the glory days of pop music, you'll be surprised how many songs you know.
The current Broadway cast is led by Chilina Kennedy. The actress portraying King must act, sing and, of course, play the piano. Kennedy does so beautifully, and she's met note for note by her fellow actors.
It's a must-see show and, luckily, one that has a traveling show heading to Salt Lake City at the new Eccles Theater Nov. 15-20.
"Beautiful" contains some adult drinking and conversations about teen pregnancy.
"School of Rock" — The latest offering by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is nothing like the legendary composer's more traditional works ("Phantom of the Opera," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"). But perhaps it's fitting that the man who helped usher in rock operas is now bringing rock to Broadway.
Based on the 2003 Jack Black film of the same name, "School of Rock" has been on Broadway for almost a year now. It is, more than anything else, a showcase for incredible young musicians whose names we'll likely see for years to come. They all have extraordinary talent. The young musicians are not only adept actors, their solos are true standout moments and make one think they're at a rock concert rather than sitting in the Winter Garden Theatre.
Most of the original cast is still intact, and "School of Rock" also offers what many shows on Broadway do not: Sunday evening performances (which is important for theater fans who are trying to fit in as many as possible.)
"School of Rock" is quite enjoyable, is a great starter show if you have any theater novices on your hands and also has a sweet little story. But compared to the other musicals currently on Broadway, you might get more bang for your buck in another theater.
"School of Rock" contains mild language.
"Something Rotten!" — In its finest form, "Something Rotten" is the most tender of love letters to the Broadway musical. The clever, Tony Award-nominated musical has been on Broadway roughly a year and a half, and it set to close in January 2017. Your time is running out, but it's certainly worth the trek. There is a national tour but, it's not scheduled to come anywhere near Salt Lake yet.
"Something Rotten!" is one of those completely original works that leaves you wondering why we just don't see much of that anymore. It's clever, witty and at times bawdy, but thoroughly entertaining as Nick and Nigel Bottom, playwrights in the 1590s, try to find a way out from under the shadow of the rock star of the day, William Shakespeare. In desperation, Nick bumps into a soothsayer who foretells the next big thing in theater: musical.
Most of the original cast has since moved on, but the current cast is excellent too.
"Something Rotten!" contains sexual innuendo throughout and some language.
No longer available on Broadway but still worth a mention is "An American in Paris," which closed in October but is about to embark on a national tour. It's the music of the Gershwin brothers, inspired by the dancing of Gene Kelly … how could one go wrong? This is a stage adaptation of the 1951 movie of the same name that starred Kelly and went on to win six Academy Awards. This production also won numerous awards, including the Tony Award for best choreography.
The national tour is stopping in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Denver in the spring, should you be up for a road trip. And for you dance aficionados, it's worth your time. This production is absolutely beautiful. The choreography is delicate and lyrical, and the score features many of the Gershwins' greatest hits: "I Got Rhythm," "S'Wonderful," "Shall We Dance?" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me," among others.
And for those of you with a slightly larger budget and adventurous spirit, the musical will be touring Europe beginning in the spring of 2017, featuring the original Broadway leads.
"An American in Paris" contains one scene with drinking.
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."