Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Theater Roundup, Yearbook Style

A yearbook-style update on some of my recent theatergoing.

Best Discovery: MasterVoices
Photo credit: Erin Baiano
I'm kind of late to the party on this one. The Collegiate Chorale was founded in 1941, but I was introduced to the performing arts organization this season when it changed its name to MasterVoices and started a new partnership with New York City Center to present concert versions of operas and operettas in English. In October, it kicked off this new initiative with Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance; or, the Slave of Duty featuring Deborah Voigt as Ruth, Douglas Hodge as Major-General Stanley, Hunter Parrish as Frederic, and Phillip Boykin as the Pirate King. All these stars didn't take away from the pleasures of listening to the chorus and orchestra, conducted by Ted Sperling. Next up is Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell and Nahum Tate with a world premiere companion piece by Michael John LaChiusa. Dates for these works, featuring Kelli O'Hara and Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza reunion!), are April 28 and 29.

Biggest Surprise: Songbird
Left to Right: Eric William Morris, Adam Cochran, and Kate Baldwin in Songbird. Photo credit: Jenny Anderson Photography.
I don't consider myself a country music fan, but I loved Lauren Pritchard's score for the new musical Songbird, currently at 59E59, so much that I'm hoping for a cast recording. Bookwriter Michael Kimmel captures the essence of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull while believably updating the story to take place in present-day Nashville. It's fun to watch Kate Baldwin play a character with a mean streak as Tammy Trip (Irina Arkadina as a country star instead of famous actress). Everyone in the cast is terrific, but Kacie Sheik as Missy, the stand-in for Masha, is a standout. Her voice and Pritchard's music are a perfect match. Every morning at 10 a.m., tickets to that day's performance are sold for just $10 online at Ticket Central, so there's no excuse not to see it.

Best Use of Abs: Trip of Love
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Trip of Love is a dance musical featuring music of the '60s. There is a story shoehorned in that doesn't make a lot of sense, so it's best to ignore that and soak in the psychedelic costumes and sets, powerhouse vocals, and the abs on constant display (both male and female).

Most Dedicated: Annaleigh Ashford
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
At a blogger Q&A for A.R. Gurney's Sylvia, now on Broadway at the Cort Theatre, Annaleigh Ashford spoke about going to obedience and agility training with her dog, Gracie. Ashford, who plays a dog in the show about the relationship between a man and his pet, embodies canine behavior without crawling on all fours and imitating an animal. She tends to rely on the same schtick for every role I've seen her in, but it works here. I can't say the same for Matthew Broderick, who is as stiff and lifeless as he's been for years.

Best All-Around: On Your Feet
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
Bio-musicals are tricky, but On Your Feet!, the musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan, has charismatic leading performances (remember the names Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra) and music that makes you want to get up and dance (and you might be asked to do that--I had to join a conga line and even my fear of audience participation did not stop me from enjoying the show). The book by Alexander Dinelaris does not completely avoid the clichés of a music industry story (there's of course a moment when a record studio executive tells the Estefans that they will never cross over into non-Latin markets), but it also has a lot of genuine laughs.