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Stage: New York City

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New on Broadway

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK Wendy Kesselman’s reworking of the 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the young Jewish girl’s own tale of hiding from the Nazis, is powerfully cathartic. Natalie Portman makes a vibrant Anne, and the other leads — George Hearn and Lori Wilner as her parents and Harris Yulin and Linda Lavin as the Van Daans — are equally fine, aided by James Lapine’s direction. Even though you know it’s coming, the ending is devastating. (TC) A — William Stevenson

THE SUNSHINE BOYS As Neil Simon’s bickering old vaudevillians reunited after being estranged for 12 years, Jack Klugman and Tony Randall (who played Simon’s Odd Couple on TV, of course) expertly blend pathos and punchlines. Klugman has nearly lost his voice (its raspiness is a vestige of throat cancer), and both have lost some hair, but neither has lost his comic timing. (TC) A- — WS

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE The dated bombast of Arthur Miller’s 1955 drama about a Brooklyn longshoreman with a not-quite-kosher proprietary hold on his unmarried 17-year-old niece doesn’t detract from Anthony LaPaglia’s blazing performance as Eddie Carbone, one of those common-man brutes who at least doesn’t settle for Eisenhower-era emotional conformity. The elegant revival, directed by Michael Mayer, also stars the impeccable Allison Janney (Big Night) as Eddie’s Linda Loman-esque wife. (212-719-1300) B+ — Lisa Schwarzbaum

OFF BROADWAY

AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN This satiric look at New York’s ruthless art and publishing circles by Douglas Carter Beane has been optioned as a movie by Universal and Sandollar Productions. The play isn’t as bitingly funny as it could be, but it’s enlivened by the glittering character of Alexa Vere de Vere, a phony, fast-talking producer who takes a young writer under her wing. Madonna, Nicole Kidman, and Mira Sorvino have reportedly swarmed in to check out the role, brought to effervescent life on stage by J. Smith-Cameron. (TC) B+ — WS

GOOSE-PIMPLES Where would British drama be without Maggie Thatcher to kick around? This scathing dissection of wretched London yuppies written by Secrets & Lies director Mike Leigh ran in England 17 years ago, but, as directed by Scott Elliott, artistic director of the hot New Group, it still crackles with emotional and political tension. The remarkable cast includes Sam Rockwell — and now you’ll know why every Sundance-bound filmmaker wants to work with him. (212-279-4200) A- — LS

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE A musical trifle about predictable moments in the stereotypical relationship life cycle of cute white heteros — think Sondheim’s Company or Schmidt-Jones’ I Do! I Do!, then lower your expectations (and prepare for jokes about men’s inability to ask for directions). The quartet of singing actors, though, is winning and director Joel Bishoff makes inventive use of a small, spare stage. (TC) B- — LS

JUNE MOON Director Mark Nelson and an ace cast (including Albert Macklin and Cynthia Nixon) revive the 1929 oddball comedy by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman. And I do mean revive. Under the auspices of the Drama Dept., June Moon is as fresh, funny, and beguiling as its hero — a naive, ambitious young songwriter (Justin Kirk) who seeks fame and fortune (and finds himself) on the jaded streets of Manhattan. (TC) A — JC

THE LAST SESSION Few Broadway extravaganzas are as intensely moving as composer-lyricist Steve Schalchlin’s five-person musical. The title refers to the final recording session of a singer-songwriter with AIDS who plans to kill himself, and though the dialogue devolves into a tiresome religious debate, the gospel-inflected songs by Schalchlin (who has AIDS himself) are heartrending and beautifully sung. (TC) B+ — WS

NEVER THE SINNER Visually striking and psychologically compelling, John Logan’s verbose play gives the notorious Leopold and Loeb trial a sexy spin. For those unfamiliar with the 1920s case, the young, well-off lovers murdered a boy simply to prove their superiority. Michael Solomon (the ”angel-faced” Loeb) and Jason Bowcutt (the intellectual Leopold) make the remorseless killers hard to hate. And Robert Hogan conjures up the wry spirit of their wily lawyer, Clarence Darrow. (TC) B+ — WS

PRIDE’S CROSSING Playwright Tina Howe deconstructs the life of Mabel Tidings, a woman who breaks free of her WASPy confines, swims the English Channel, and finds life back on land to be most disappointing. The play’s a bit uneven, but as Mabel, Cherry Jones (The Heiress) ages from preschooler to dowager with consummate grace and skill. (TC) A- — JC

R & J Dead Poets Society meets Romeo and Juliet. In director Joe Calarco’s inventive adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, four boys at a repressive prep school perform the play and shed their inhibitions along the way. Juggling characters, the talented young actors make the familiar story fresh. And when Daniel J. Shore’s character enters solemnly as Juliet, breaking with the other boys’ campy mimicry of women, it’s an electrifying moment. (212-354-2220) B+ — WS

SANDRA BERNHARD: I’M STILL HERE…DAMN IT Nobody wears irony as beautifully as Bernhard (Roseanne). In her wildly witty one-woman show, this postmodern vaudevillian sings, ponders the contemporary human condition, gives helpful tips for stalking supermodels, and riffs mercilessly on big names from Mariah Carey to Mother Teresa, who, she claims, left behind nothing more than ”a well-worn pair of water-buffalo sandals, a moth-eaten sweater, and a pair of Oliver Peoples sunglasses.” She ends her New York run on Feb. 14, then starts a national tour March 3 in Boston. (TM) A — JC

SECRETS EVERY SMART TRAVELER SHOULD KNOW An underdog musical by 11 composers that whisks audiences through a 75-minute tour of the foibles of modern travel. From a giddy spoof of Montserrat’s ashy beaches to a deadpan ballad about Uzbekistan’s dubious tourist attractions — all without a single gag about airline food — its song-joke-song ethic is a little old-fashioned, but its nimble wit isn’t. (212-799-4599) B+ — Jason Cochran

SHOPPING AND F — -ING Mark Ravenhill’s nihilistic London hit, about a group of desperate young Brits seeking salvation, is at times as sophomoric — but never as provocative — as its title. Still, first-time playwright Ravenhill shows potential, and the cast is uniformly terrific. (212-460-5475) B- — JC

VISITING MR. GREEN A promising setup — the slow-blooming friendship between an embittered 86-year-old Jewish widower and a slick Jewish yuppie — is strained to its limits once playwright Jeff Baron stuffs Big Issues into an otherwise ingratiating seriocomedy. But Eli Wallach inhabits the title role with the brio that only an 82-year-old stage pro can bring to the proceedings, and every gruff word he utters, every tiny adjustment of his old bones, is a delight. (TM) B — LS

HOWARD CRABTREE’S WHEN PIGS FLY This costume-pageant extravaganza-cum-eccentric musical revue by Crabtree, Mark Waldrop, and Dick Gallagher wins laughs for its zany satire (including torch songs to Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh), but it’s the talented ensemble (featuring the engaging Michael West) that transforms what could have been mere cabaret schmaltz into a loony, heartfelt tribute to the show’s late creator. (TC) B+ — KC

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How to Get TICKETS

Unless otherwise noted, tickets can be ordered (with surcharges) from Tele-Charge (TC), 800-432-7250 (or 212-239-6200 in the New York area); or from Ticketmaster (TM), 800-755-4000 (or 212-307-4100).

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OFF OFF BROADWAY

Feeling a little downtown? Go way off Broadway to see drag virtuoso Lypsinka (John Epperson) in Lypsinka Is Harriet Craig!, a smart, sidesplitting send-up of the 1950 Joan Crawford camp classic about a woman who whips her husband and household staff into doing things her way. (212-539-7585) A — JC

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BOX OFFICE

‘RAGTIME’ TO RICHES Great early buzz has fueled brisk sales of Broadway’s top-grossing musical, Ragtime, which opened Jan. 18 in the new Canadian-owned Ford Center for the Performing Arts, a venue created by combining the historic Lyric and Apollo theaters. Although Disney’s The Lion King, playing across 42nd Street at the smaller New Amsterdam Theater, ranks second according to box office figures, it’s consistently selling out to standing-room crowds and reigns on a capacity basis (there’s no standing room in the Ford Center). While you would have to wait until December to see The Lion King in the theater’s best orchestra seats, loyal subjects can still snatch up a few lesser seats at the New Amsterdam box office. And in another season where Broadway musicals continue to dominate ticket sales, the newly adapted version of The Diary of Anne Frank, starring Natalie Portman, in the title role, and Linda Lavin, cracks the top 20 as the highest-charting play, with Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, starring Anthony LaPaglia and Allison Janney, not far behind. WEEK’S NET AVG. BROADWAY TOP 25 RECEIPTS ATTENDANCE TICKET PERF. TO PRICE DATE

1 RAGTIME (TM) 807,748 91% $61 9 2 THE LION KING (TM) 802,440 100.4% $57 85 3 THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (TC) 651,110 92.8% $55 4,197 4 CHICAGO (TC) 614,189 89.8% $59 499 5 TITANIC (TM) 607,363 92.3% $56 317 6 RENT (TM) 553,462 101.9% $58 728 7 DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (TM) 498,901 81.3% $44 1,578 8 LES MISERABLES (TC)435,283 95.5% $40 4,471 9 JEKYLL & HYDE (TC) 401,562 87% $54 312 10 MISS SAIGON (TC) 400,746 70.1% $41 2,830 11 THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (TM) 352,080 58.2% $44 89 12 1776 (TM) 350,242 67.9% $34 173 13 THE KING AND I (TM) 302,288 76.3% $38 741 14 SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE (TC) 300,699 81.2% $38 1,205 15 CATS (TC) 293,084 60.4% $41 6,389 16 BRING IN ‘DA NOISE, BRING IN ‘DA FUNK (TC) 290,714 75.3% $45 723 17 THE LIFE (TC) 264,757 68.3% $45 314 18 FOREVER TANGO (TC) 198,230 72% $37 256 19 THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (TC) 193,642 58.8% $42 64 20 THE SUNSHINE BOYS (TC) 179,012 56.1% $44 49 21 THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD (TC) 169,709 67.6% $41 77 22 A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (212-869-8400) 158,029 100% $40 48 23 THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO (TM) 126,407 64.3% $41 381 24 JACKIE: AN AMERICAN LIFE (TC) 96,900 39.9% $30 88 25 STREET CORNER SYMPHONY (TM) 70,449 36.6% $23 72

SOURCE: VARIETY; WEEK OF JAN. 19-25, 1998; ATTENDANCE PERCENTAGE INCLUDES STANDING-ROOM TICKET SALES

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