On the Aisle with Larry, April 21, 2015

Lawrence Harbison, our very own critic, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on WOLF HALL, THE AUDIENCE, GIGI, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, BUZZER and THE HEIDI CHRONICLES.

Every year, a few West End hits are brought to Broadway. Earlier this season, we had The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is still going strong and likely to receive 3 or 4 Tony Nominations, and the recent openings of Wolf Hall and The Audience, both historical dramas. Wolf Hall, at the Winter Garden Theatre, adapted by Mike Poulton from Hillary Mantel’s best-selling novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, is about political maneuverings in Tudor England; The Audience, at the Schoenfeld Theatre, is about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

The central character in Wolf Hall is Thomas Cromwell, here depicted not as the devious, unscrupulous manipulator as history has it but as a man of principle who revered his predecessor in King Henry VIII’s favor, Cardinal Wolsey, and who understands the crisis which will occur if the King dies without a male heir. The first part of the play deals with the fall of Wolsey, the annulment of the King’s marriage to his first wife, Katharine, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The second part is about the plot to get rid of Anne and replace her with Jane Seymour, ending with Anne’s execution as well as that of her supposed lovers.

Wolf Hall is very compelling as drama but spurious as history. Here’s an example: Cromwell tricks the Queen’s musician, Mark Smeaton, into “confessing” he had sex with her and into naming everyone else who did as well, posing as his friend who is just trying to save him. In fact, Cromwell had Smeaton racked in the Tower. Cromwell is almost a Man for All Seasons here, almost a heroic figure.

That said, the production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, on Christopher Horam’s gloomy unit set, the actors costumed by Horam in monochromatic colors, lit by David Platner’s gloomy lighting, is a real gripper. Ben Miles is terrific as Mantel/Poulton’s Cromwell, though hardly history’s, and Nathaniel Parker equally so as the King. In fact, the entire cast is first rate, which you would expect from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Wolf Hall plays in two parts, so it’s quite an investment in time and money, but it’s worth it.

The Audience, by Peter Morgan, is structured as a series of meetings the Queen had with nine of her Prime Ministers, who included Sir Winston Churchill, John Major, Sir Anthony Eden and Margaret Thatcher. Apparently, she meets with her P.M. of the moment every Tuesday evening for twenty minutes, who briefs her about what’s going on in Parliament. Helen Mirren, spectacular as Queen Elizabeth, ages from a young princess awaiting her coronation to a woman well into sixties. This is a beautifully written and performed portrait of the human side of this iconic figure. Even if you’re not a fan, you’re likely to shout, “God save the Queen!” at the curtain call.

Gigi, at the Neil Simon Theatre, and An American in Paris, at the Palace Theatre, both celebrate Paris, though in different ways. The Belle Époque Paris of Gigi (a revival of the Lerner and Loewe musical which was first a film and then a short-lived Broadway show) is a lovely place filled with callow, superficial people. It’s about a young girl who’s being groomed for a woman’s highest calling, to be the mistress of a married man. The show itself is determinedly old-fashioned. The post-World War II Paris of An American in Paris, on the other hand, is a magical place where love reigns supreme. It’s about a young American serviceman who falls in love with an aspiring ballerina. He has two rivals, though – an American pianist and composer and a French man whose family, it turns out, hid Our Heroine from the Nazis during the war. She feels obligated to marry him, but finds herself falling in love with Our Hero, the ex-G.I. The nebbish-y pianist has no shot.

Of the two, I much preferred An American in Paris. It’s inventively directed and brilliantly choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, and catapaults him into the front rank of Broadway stagers. Wheeldon’s choreography is even better than the dancing in On the Town – and that’s saying a lot. He has cast two world class ballet dancers as the leads who, it turns out, can also sing beautifully. Robert Fairchild is a fabulous dancer with the all the charisma of Gene Kelly, who played his role in the film, and Leanne Cope is wonderful as the ballerina. This one’s a don’t miss.

I also enjoyed Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer, at the Public Theater. It’s a drama about a young couple (he’s black, she’s white) who move into a renovated luxury apartment right smack in the middle of the hood. Conflicts surface when they take in an old friend of his from prep school, a white guy who’s been in and out of rehab and who has no place else to go, and when she can’t take being harassed anymore by the local street toughs. I had a few credibility issues with the play, but still I found it an honest exploration of race as it effects three very likeable people.

Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Heidi Chronicles, at the Music Box Theatre, has been revived in a wonderful production by Pam McKinnon, starring Elizabeth Moss as the eponymous heroine, whose life from the 1960’s through the 1980’s becomes a  mirror of the lives of many women who hoped to have it all. In its time, it had a compelling contemporaneity – now, I’m afraid, it seems like something of a period piece. Still, the cast is terrific. I wouldn’t call The Heidi Chronicles a must-see, but it’s still worth checking out.

WOLF HALL. Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE AUDIENCE. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th ST.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
GIGI. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
BUZZER. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.
TICKETS: 212-967-7555
THE HEIDI CHRONICLES. Music Box Theatre, 239 w. 45TH St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

Menu