Great Theatre Is Great

I recently returned from a very theatre-filled trip to New York City and wanted to take a moment to share some of my thoughts and experiences from the shows I saw. I was travelling with a friend and we got to New York on a Tuesday morning and left on the Friday. In that time we saw 4 shows (and Stars in the Alley). So all in all a great trip.

*Disclaimer: I loved every show on this trip so the following is just going to be a lot about why I loved them. It’s hard to accurately express all of my thoughts about these shows in a cohesive way so please forgive me if I repeat myself, I just really love these shows!*

Tuesday Night (May 30th): The Little Foxes

First up was Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. This was my first time seeing a play on Broadway (I’d only been to see musicals on past NYC trips). I was not familiar with the play going into it but was very excited. This production stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon and on top of that, they alternate their roles. We saw it with Laura playing Regina and Cynthia playing Birdie (the roles for which they received their respective Tony nominations this year). Both women were excellent in the roles we saw them play. The rest of the cast too were so good! I would also love to see it again though with the women in the alternate roles because they both brought so much to their characters as I saw it and the characters are so distinct that it’s hard to picture them portrayed differently (I have heard that their portrayals are very different). There are actually some clips online of Laura and Cynthia each playing Birdie in the same scene and it’s interesting even in that short clip to see the variations. I do wonder too how the other actors’/characters’ performances change with each role switch (obviously the script and staging would be the same but there would be other nuances that would change/differ).

The set was beautiful too. It was one of those sets of a beautiful interior of a house that doesn’t change physically, aside from doors opening to reveal other rooms but then combined with some excellent lighting design there were some really beautiful moments. At the beginning of Act 2 there was one particular moment when the shutters were opened to let light into the house and the light shone in from the side looking just like sunlight streaming in through a window, it was beautiful.

Then to top it off we had an excellent stage door experience. All of the cast members who came out were incredibly nice and we even got pictures with Laura Linney (probably the most famous person with whom I’ve gotten a photo!)

Wednesday Matinee (May 31st): Bandstand

I went to TKTS to get a ticket for the Wednesday matinee and ended up with a 2nd row, centre orchestra seat for Bandstand. I absolutely loved this show! It’s one of my new favourites! It had been a dream of mine to see Laura Osnes live in a show and that dream was fulfilled on this trip. Her performances as Julia Trojan was beautiful in every way. I watched Grease You’re the One That I Want seeing saw Laura win that and have pretty much been following her career ever since. Now I can finally say I’ve seen her in person, and then meeting her at the stage door was the icing on the cake! I am also a big fan of Corey Cott (who I also saw as Jack Kelly in Newsies) and was so happy to see him in a show again (and from a lot closer this time as I was in the back row of the mezzanine when I saw Newsies!). 

As was the case with most of the shows this trip I didn’t really know much about Bandstand beforehand but I loved every moment of it! The whole cast was amazing- principals and ensemble alike. All of the guys in the Donny Nova Band (Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins & Geoff Packard) gave incredible performances. They brought it all, including playing their own instruments. And Corey and Laura- I don’t even really know what to say! The performance of the song “Welcome Home” in Act 2 is one of those performances I won’t forget. Laura’s vocals combined with the song itself (the music and lyrics), the performance from the band, the staging, it made for a powerful and beautiful moment.

I loved the set too and I really liked the contrast between the main set of the club with set pieces (chairs/table/piano/etc.) moving off and on for different locations and the flashier, “modern,” look of the New York City sets in Act 2. Of course I had forgotten until afterwards that David Korins is the set designer for Bandstand (some of his other shows being Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and War Paint, to name a few), and I was already a fan of his work, so I’m not surprised I liked this set!

The costumes too were beautiful. I would love to wear any of Julia’s outfits! (Also, is it in Laura’s contract that she get a cool costume change in her shows?!)

I was so excited to see them perform on the Tonys this year despite not being nominated for Best Musical! And Andy Blankenbuehler won the Tony for Best Choreography!! Now I just have to wait for the cast recording to be released later this month!

Wednesday Night (May 31st): Anastasia

I grew up loving the movie Anastasia (the cartoon from the 90’s) and in fact, still love that (not Disney) movie. It was actually this show around which our New York trip was planned.

I knew going  in to it that there were changes in the musical from how things happen in the movie (for example, Rasputin is not the bad guy). Even with the changes I really really enjoyed this show. There is something great about hearing/seeing some of your favourite songs from childhood (ie “Journey to the Past,” “Once Upon a December”) live onstage. I will admit though I do wish “In the Dark of the Night” could still be included in the stage production- that song would be amazing live! I was happy to hear though that some of the music from that particular song was used in a couple of different places in the musical. (It almost made up for it being cut). I can also see why the various changes were made, it does make it all a bit more realistic and all of the changes worked in the show.

The design of the show was beautiful. The costumes were stunning (the blue dress!) and the set was beautiful with extremely well-executed uses of projections. “Once Upon a Decemeber” was particularly great for this, as well as the scene where Anya, Dmitry, and Vlad are on the train. So cool!

The casting for Anastasia was very well done. Christy Altomare and Derek Klena were excellent as Anastasia and Dmitry, respectively. Seriously, these characters are in good hands with these two! And they are both incredibly nice in person!

This show had a lot to live up to in my books and I am so happy to say I was not disappointed!

Thursday Night (June 1st): Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

I have never seen or experienced anything like this show before. It was amazing. I knew that it was based on a very specific section of War and Peace but I have never read the book. I had also only heard a couple of the songs beforehand. Once I knew I was seeing the show I decided to hold off listening to the full cast album.

It’s hard to really explain Great Comet, it’s just such a different show, in basically every way- the design, the staging, the style of the music, it’s so unique, but I loved it for that! I’ve been listening to the cast album on repeat lately and I just keep loving it more and more. I do wonder though how I would feel about it if I hadn’t seen the show first (or at all) because it is so different. As it is though I absolutely love it! (How many times can I say it?!)

The cast. Oh that cast (and band). Amazing. There were so many unique voices too. It’s not you’re typical “musical theatre-y” sounding cast. And there are so many of them! Principals, ensemble, roving musicians, non-roving musicians and whatever other combinations of roles. Denee Benton (I was actually at BroadwayCon when they announced the casting of Denee as Natasha), Brittain Ashford, and Lucas Steele, to name a few, were amazing. And yes, Josh Groban is great!!! A few times I tried to count everyone when it looked like they were all on stage but I don’t think I ever counted them all! It was so impressive to see them all scattered around and/or grouped together in the space. There was always so much to look at between the actors and musicians and the design elements, and that’s just in the places we could see from our seats in the rear mezzanine! (Who knows what we missed happening on the orchestra level!)

All of the design elements came together to create an incredibly visually stunning piece of theatre but it was the set and the lighting design that really stood out to me. If you are not already aware, the set for The Great Comet is everywhere in the theatre. Audience members are also sitting on the stage and in pockets of space throughout the “stage,” with paths moving through the seating on both the orchestra and mezzanine levels, with staircases on either side going from the orchestra to the mezzanine. The performers use all of this playable space and the layout lends itself well to making it a very immersive and interactive experience. If you want to know just how interactive it can be consider that we were sitting in the very last row of the mezzanine (not on an aisle) and during a song in Act 2 one of the performers who was moving along the aisle, saw that I was holding a wine cup and reached over with her cup to “cheers” with me with! (It definitely made the $14 wine more worth it! That, and the souvenir cup!)

The lighting design too was gorgeous. There were multiple, beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling as well as numerous single hanging lightbulbs that could be controlled individually both in terms of brightness and height. These lights created some really beautiful effects. On top of that there were also little tables scattered throughout the audience, each table having a light on it, which were also cued in with the rest of the lighting cues, turning on and off, getting brighter and dimmer, throughout the show. I was not surprised at all to see the Scenic Design and Lighting Design Tonys go to Great Comet last night (to Mimi Lien and Bradley King, respectively)!

At times it’s a bit of a weird show, but in a good way and it’s such an experience. Now I just need to see it again from the orchestra and the stage seating!

Trips like this, filled with great shows (and great stage door experiences!), just make me so happy. It was a nice change for me not knowing a lot about all of the shows I was seeing beforehand. It was also exciting because it is a goal of mine to see a show at every Broadway theatre and because of this trip I’ve added 4 more theatres to the list, bringing me up to 11! I can’t wait to go back to NYC and add more theatres to the list!