2008 Broadway

Gypsy 2008 Revival

Unlike London, New York was alive with new musical theatre talented throughout 2008, some better than others, but most enjoyed successful runs none the less. From new shows by established artists to more film to musical transitions, the Great White Way was awash with a rich mix of shows ranging from the good to the bad and the downright green.

Broadway favourite Jason Robert Brown caused a stir when he announced that his new musical 13 would open in September, after an out of town tryout in Los Angeles. Stepping away from the heavier material he has come to be associated with, Brown devised a new show with a cast of only children. The show opened at the Bernard B Jacobs Theatre on October 5 and was directed by Todd Graff who also directed the production in LA. Critics found the show likable, but the show closed in January 2009 after only 105 regular performances.

John Doyle returned to Broadway directing the new musical A Catered Affair which was based on the 1956 film of the same name with new book by Harvey Fierstein. The show opened at the Walter Kerr on March 25, surviving until July 27 after 116 performances. Faith Prince and Tom Wopat led the talented cast and critics praised Doyle’s direction as the show felt more like a ‘play with music’ rather than a bold piece of musical theatre. Others found the show ‘tasteful but bland’ which accounts for the sharp drop in audience numbers throughout the early summer months.

 

Cry-Baby (wikipedia, Shewhodaydreams)

The Musical Cry Baby attempted to bring the 1990 John Walters movie of the same name to the stage at the Marquis Theatre, but was critically panned. This campy and cynical musical failed to match the success of Hairspray, John Walters’ earlier film and closed after 68 regular performances. Passing Strange managed a slightly longer run at the Belasco Theatre, winning one Tony Award for Best Book in the process. The show was positively received by most critics, but the show failed to appeal to tourists to help it survive throughout the summer.

The Little Mermaind Playbill (wikipedia, Jacobsnchz)

Disney Theatricals attempted to strike gold for the fourth time in its stage adaptation of the 1989 film The Little Mermaid which opened at the Lunt Fontanne Theatre in January. Featuring the original score by Alan Menken and new songs by Menken and Glenn Slater, the show failed to match the crossover already seen by The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. The score was indeed more than Broadway worthy, and Sierra Boggess starred as a sensational Ariel, but the show was let down by the production elements. Francesca Zambello’s direction along side George Tsypin’s scenic design patronised the production making it gimmicky. The addition of ‘Heelys’ meant that the actors could glide around the stage in a quasi Starlight Express fashion but rarely enhanced the performances. Norm Lewis played an intimidating King Triton but was sadly underused. The production managed to run until August 2009, nowhere near the success of previous Disney Broadway ventures.

Broadway was turned green as Shrek the musical opened at the Broadway Theatre in an attempt to knock the crown off Disney’s theatrical monopolisation. Based on the Dreamworks animated picture, Shrek follows an Ogre, a donkey, a mysterious princess and a whole cast of fairytale creatures in a fantastic production designed by Tim Hatley. The show made passing references to musicals such as Wicked, Rent and Gypsy and featured Broadway stars Brian d’Arcy James and Sutton Foster in the lead roles. The show managed a respectable run of almost 2 years, closing in January 2010.

The biggest new musical of the year came from an unknown author and concerned the lives of those living far uptown in Washington Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights opened in March at the Richard Rodgers Theatre where it managed to recoup its $10million investment after 10 months. The show featured rap music, and hip-hop dancing and was seen as a fresh addition to the musical theatre repertoire. The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical which increased the show’s popularity helping it run far into 2010.

In the Heights Poster, Broadway 2008 (wikipedia, melesse)

2008 became the battle of the big revivals as a new Arthur Laurents directed production of Gypsy opened at the St James Theatre in March, starring Patti LuPone as Mamma Rose. Inspired by what he saw as the ‘awful’ 2003 Sam Mendes revival, Laurents wanted to rectify the mistakes and produce the definitive version before he died. Unsure at first of LuPone’s potential in the role, she stole the show bringing the house down night after night. The tasteful revival starred Laura Benanti as Louise, and Leigh Ann Larkin as June. Like the previous production, the show closed early at a loss, after 332 performances. LuPone made headlines as she literally stopped the show during her 11 o’clock number ‘Rose’s Turn’ to scold a member of the audience who was recording her performance. Uptown at the Lincoln Centre, Bartlett Sher directed a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical South Pacific. The production breathed new life into the show, with a lively Kelli O’Hara as Nellie Forbush and Matthew Morrison as Cable. The production featured a full live orchestra and was beautifully conceived.

Pal Joey opened at Studio 54 in December, starring a rather aged Stockard Channing and Martha Plimpton, in a production that failed to excite critics or audiences in the already saturated musical year. The Menier Chocolate Factory production of Sunday in the Park with George played at the same theatre with award winners Jenna Russell and Daniel Evans reprising their roles.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (playbill)

An all African-American production of Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened, directed by Debbie Allen and was one of the hits of the year. James Earl Jones starred as Big Daddy alongside Phylicia Rashad as Big Mamma in this spectacular production with brought a new perspective on this already amazing play. Boeing-Boeing opened in April starring Mark Rylance and Bradley Whitford, winning a number of awards including Best Actor for Rylance. One of the biggest revivals of the year opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in September. All My Sons starred John Lithgow, Patrick Wilson and Katy Holmes as the Keller family in Miller’s family wartime drama.

The West End contributed strongly to the Broadway calendar, with transfers of Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths repeating its London success. Patrick Stewart played Macbeth once again in the dark production directed by Rupert Goold. The most significant transfer came in the form of Billy Elliot the Musical which opened at the Imperial Theatre on 13 November. The full London production team travelled with the show, including Haydn Gwynne who reprised her role as Mrs. Wilkinson. The show was an instant success, taking in over $20million in advance ticket sales.

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