2010 on Broadway

Sondheim on Sondheim (wikipedia,SS Miami)

The 2010 Broadway Season celebrated the birthday of Stephen Sondheim in spectacular fashion and instead of resurrecting an old piece of work, created a brand new musical. Sondheim on Sondheim was a musical revue conceived and directed by James Lapine, with whom Sondheim had worked with previously on the musicals Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George. Staged by the Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, the show featured audio narration by Sondheim telling the story of his life and works through interviews and songs both well known and newly created. The cast was made up of veteran Sondheim performers such as Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat and Norm Lewis who each performed songs from shows including West Side Story, Company and Merrily We Roll Along. Arranged and presented in a new form, particular highlights included a ‘mash up’ of ‘Losing My Mind’ with ‘Not a Day Goes By’ and a fantastic version of ‘Being Alive’ by Norm Lewis. The show also featured songs Sondheim had written early in his career whilst at college. Critics met the show with mixed reviews however most agreed that the video footage was the star of the show and was incorporated well into the text. The song selection was seen to be ill-matched to the performers, but as a celebration the piece stood out as being a fitting tribute to the composer.

The Addams Family (wikipedia,Rjf0605)

Other new musicals on Broadway this season varied in quality and were not as exciting as previous years. Andrew Lippa’s new musical The Addams Family opened in April at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre as a huge spectacle, costing between $10-15million. Early success was down to the strategic casting of Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia, creating a buzz at the box office. The show took its inspiration from the original cartoon series rather than any of the modern films, and featured a brand new story by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Despite mainly negative reviews the show consistently played to 100% capacity throughout the preview period and gained a huge advance, which many people put down to the casting of Lane in the lead role. Lippa’s score was nominated for the Tony Award but didn’t win, despite having an edgy and fresh sound. After the stars left the show Brooke Shields sparked some interest, but the show post closing details for December 2011.

The freshest new musical came from director Susan Stroman, who presented Kander and Ebb’s newest show The Scottsboro Boys at the Lyceum Theatre. Based on the Scottsboro Boys trial, the musical used the convention of a minstrel show to act as a social critique on the case and its place within American culture. The show opened on October 7 but closed after only 49 regular performances. Some critics found the mixed form too much to handle, saying the message of the piece was obscured too much by the minstrel element that trivialised the case. Others fully understood Stroman’s vision and found the show wholly effective. John Kander’s music was praised as he proved to be as versatile as ever. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards (second only to The Book of Mormon with 14) and took home none.

American Idiot (wikipedia illazill)

Greenday exploded onto the Broadway stage with their ‘concept’ musical American Idiot which took over the St James Theatre from April. Based on the album of the same name, the ‘rock opera’ follows the journey of a group of young Americans struggling to find meaning in a post-9/11 world. Billie Joe Armstrong was at the forefront of the creative team alongside director Michael Mayer, bringing the album to the stage in a new form of jukebox musical. Million Dollar Quartet attempted to take a slice of the jukebox genre, developing from the Jersey Boys formula. This one act musical shows the ‘best jam session in history’ bringing the world of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash to the stage, in a concert of their most famous songs. In direct contrast Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson opened at the Bernard B Jacbobs Theatre charting the foundation of the Democratic Party. Using Andrew Jackson, the seventh American President as the focus, the rock musical redefined him as an ‘Emo’ rock star, focusing on the Indian Removal Act along with his personal relationships. The poor economy was blamed for the show’s premature closing, ending its run after 120 performances, and closing with a substantial loss.

The big revivals of the year came from La Cage aux Folles which transferred from London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and a new production of Promises, Promises directed by Rob Ashford. Despite having only been revived five years ago, the new version of La Cage starring Douglas Hodge and Kelsey Grammar captivated audiences at the Longacre Theatre where it opened on April 18. Hodge reprised his role as Zaza, winning the Tony Award for Best Actor. Over at the Broadway Theatre Neil Simon’s musical Promises, Promises using the music of Burt Bacharach was pleasantly received due to the star casting of Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. The show was substantially rewritten in order to give Chenoweth enough stage time, and the new songs were framed well within the fantastic production.

The biggest fail of the season came from the transfer of Lucy Prebble’s play Enron after a sell out season in London’s West End. The play opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 27, and closed on May 9; a fact that producers put down to a damning review by Ben Brantley of the New York Times. The show’s fate was sealed the moment the review was published, and it seemed that American audiences were not yet ready to be entertained or to visually see a play that so clearly spoke of the harsh economic times and the symbolic failure of capitalism in the 21st century.

Promises, Promises (wikipedia optimusXP)

Brief Encounter and The Pitman Painters made more successful transfers, each running for a solid period of time. The Donmar Warehouse’s production of Red was the hit of the season, playing for a limited period at the John Golden Theatre. Written by John Logan with direction by Michael Grandage, the new play concerned American expressionist Mark Rothko. Starring Eddie Redmayne the play was a sensation, taking home multiple awards and performing to sell out audiences. Classic revivals also fared well, with Mrs Warren’s Profession and A View from the Bridge bringing new audiences to Broadway, alongside Al Pachino in a new production of The Merchant of Venice which transferred after a sell out run in Central Park.

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