January 3, 2009

Repeat Performances

There are some theater lovers who will see a show over and over again. I’m not one of them. I always think there are too many other shows out there to see and only so much time—and even less money—with which to see them. And yet, over the past few weeks, I’ve gone back to see two shows that I’m particularly fond of and that were scheduled to close this month, along with so many others during this winter of our economic descent.

Spring Awakening opened in December, 2006, a few months before I started writing this blog and so although I’ve referred to it many times, there has been no one entry that says how much I love this show. Until now. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s
1891 play about German teens coming of age and into their sexuality moved me in a way I hadn’t expected.

After I first saw it,
I spent weeks listening to the cast album with the kind of obsession I hadn’t felt since, well, my own high school days. Not only do Sheik and Sater’s songs tell the characters’ story, as all good show tunes should, but they seem to tell the listener’s story too. And I was equally knocked out by Michael Mayer’s staging and Bill T. Jones’ kinetically expressive choreography.

Still, I was a little hesitant about seeing the show again when my theatergoing buddy Bill suggested that we should go back before it closes on Jan. 18. I worried that it wouldn’t be as wonderful as I
remembered. It wasn’t (what is?) but it was still deeply satisfying and confirmed my belief that this show deserves a longer run.

It’s tough to beat Jonathan Groff as the original Melchior, and John Gallagher Jr., who won a Tony for his portrayal of his friend Moritz, but I thought Alexandra Socha was splendid as the naive Wendla and Matt Doyle put a delightfully arch spin on Hanschen, the more sophisticated member of the group. And the music continued to haunt me.

There were lots of young people at the performance Bill and I attended. Some of them had probably come to see Hunter Parrish, the teen heartthrob on the Showtime series “Weeds” who is now playing Melchior, but others were clearly there for the show. “I get a feeling this isn’t the first time for most of them,” Bill said as he looked around the audience during intermission. It was a potent reminder that Broadway’s constituency doesn’t have to be restricted to those over 50 and under 12.

My second repeat performance was different. Gerard Alessandrini is always updating Forbidden Broadway, the revue that lovingly parodies Broadway shows, so it is slightly different whenever you go. I went last year and had a good time. But my husband K had never seen any version and when we heard that the show was planning to shut down after 26 years, we ordered tickets.

This latest edition is called Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab. Musical numbers aren’t listed in the Playbill because they change according to Alessandrini’s creative whims. The performance we attended included a send-up of Liza's at the Palace,
just four days after Minnelli’s new show opened.

Rehab is winningly co-directed as always by Phillip George and credit for the costumes still goes to Alvin Colt, the venerable designer who died this past May at the age of 92. The hardworking quartet of performers—this time out Christina Bianco, James Donegan, Gina Kreiezmar and Michael West—is terrific, doing spot-on imitations of everyone from Patti LuPone to [title of show]’s Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell. K, a pit musician playing hooky that day from Gypsy, which is closing on Jan.11, got a particular kick out of Kreiezmar’s interpretation of LuPone.

Old fans, and we were seated in a row with a bunch of them, treat Forbidden Broadway the way fans do rock concerts, calling out for their favorite numbers. “I really hope they do Annie,” one man told his friends during intermission. Luckily for him, they did. Luckily for theatergoers in general, Rehab’s close date has been pushed back from Jan. 15 to March 1.

After the show, K and I walked up Broadway and then stopped at Café des Artistes, our favorite spot in the city. Max, the restaurant’s bartender extraordinaire, made our usual cocktails and we sat sipping them, talking theater talk, grateful that shows like these exists and hopeful that despite these tough times, others, equally bold and imaginative, will come to take their place.

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