I spent four days in New York last week seeing four shows during arguable one of the biggest weeks in Pittsburgh theater, so I have a ton of catching up to do, including "Smart Blonde" at City Theatre tonight, with the Public's "L'Hotel" and barebones' "Streetcar" still to come.
My colleague Maria Sciullo and my son Josh Axelrod spread out our viewing a bit, so here are just a few of the impressions of the week before Thanksgiving in New York.
Maria and I opened with with the hauntingly beautiful revival of "Side Show," a retooled version of the original that had a relatively short first run in 1997-98. Reviews have been justifiably positive for this story of the real-life conjoined twins and vaudeville stars Daisy and Violet Hilton, but ticket sales slipped this past week, possibly as holiday tourism ratcheted up the family-friendly shows.
While we were at "Side Show" on Nov. 20, Josh and a friend took in "Cabaret" with Emma Stone making her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles. Here's what he had to say about the movie star onstage with Alan Cumming in his reprise of his career-defining role as the emcee.
On a New York trip that was to include four plays and a Jimmy Fallon taping, I knew going in that the highlight would be seeing "Cabaret" at Studio 54.
It wasn't because of the musical itself or the glowing reviews surrounding this revival. It was because Emma Stone was playing the promiscuous role of Sally Bowles. The prospect of seeing Stone clad in Kit Kat Klub-appropriate attire was exciting enough, but I also wanted to see if she could sing as well as she can act. My verdict: There seems to be nothing she can't do.
Anyone who has seen "Birdman" knows that Ms. Stone is more than just a comedienne now. She's a versatile actress who may be nominated for an Oscar this year for her supporting role as Michael Keaton's addict daughter. We all know she can be bring the comedy in broad fare like "Easy A" and "Superbad" or the emotional chemistry as Gwen Stacy in the "Spider-Man" movies. But the lady also happens to have a serious set of pipes.
She doesn't bring the roof down like I'm sure Liza Minnelli did in her time as Sally Bowles, but she destroyed "Cabaret," which required her to show her emotional range while also belting out the musical's showstopper. When she wasn't singing, she was as sultry as Nicole Kidman in "Moulin Rouge." It's no wonder Clifford Bradshaw (Bill Heck) fell in love with her so easily.
Okay, enough gushing about Emma Stone. She lived up to expectations beautifully, but the rest of the show was just as riveting. I didn't know that much about the music or story of "Cabaret," but it's a fascinating show. It reminded me of "Pippin" in its structure, with an Emcee (Alan Cumming) holding the show together while the characters struggle to maintain normalcy during the rise of the Nazis in Berlin. It's funny, sexy and incredibly dark at times.
Alan Cumming won a Tony in the role of the omnisexual emcee, and in this revival he displays a lot of chutzpah with each increasingly out-there thing his character does. Of course, everything he does is laced with sadness. He wants everyone to forget the world while in the cabaret, but that's easier said than done. The emcee's eventual fate was a big twist, one that ended the musical on a supremely depressing yet historical note.
All of the love stories in "Cabaret" (**spoiler alert**) end poorly. There's anti-Semitism, domestic violence, prostitution and whatever you want to call the lewd acts performed by the Kit Kat Klub dancers. Everything starts off so lighthearted and slowly devolves until all the characters' hope has been drained and the wonders of Berlin become less enchanting but no less compelling in this powerful production.
After "Side Show," Maria and I went to Juniors for a late dinner afterward and had a perfect view of Shubert Alley and the stage door of the Booth Theatre, where Bradley Cooper is starring in "The Elephant Man." We watched while a crowd waited in the cold for the star to come out, and he didn't disappoint when he did -- moving around a large barrier to take selfies and sign autographs.
The gracious star stayed for so long, we were able to finish our cheesecake (if you are at Juniors, you have to have cheesecake; it's an unwritten law of dining) and get outside in time to grab a photo from the back of the crowd. (See top.)
The team goes its separate ways again, starting in the morning when I head uptown to visit with my friend and mentor, Stan Fischler, the prolific hockey and transit writer who is a color commentator for Madison Square Garden cable network. Stan gave me my first job I graduated from our shared alma mater, Brooklyn College, where he was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award. We catch up after too long apart, and I leave with two copies (one for me, one for my friend whose father was an engineer for the NY Transit Authority), of his coffee-table book "The Subway and the City: Celebrating a Century" (Frank Merriwell Inc.).
The first two projects I worked on with Stan were a book called "The Comeback Yankees" and "Moving Millions: An Inside Look at Mass Transit." His latest book is a beautiful love letter to New York City.
Back in midtown, Maria and Josh head to see a taping of "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" while I interview Matthew Hydzik, the Sewickley native starring in "Side Show," his third Broadway role and a follow-up to the tour of "Flashdance" in its stage debut. Matt is so calm and chatty right before a show, and I am more nervous than him about getting him to the stage door on time.
Among the many cool things about "Side Show" is its venue, the St. James Theater, where the much-buzzed-about "Birdman" was filmed.
(More with Matt Hydzik in Wednesday's Magazine section.)
Maria ran from seeing Michael Cera competing in games with Jimmy Fallon to seeing him onstage in "This Is Our Youth," while Josh met me for "It's Only a Play" (see the reviews of both by Chris Rawson). Any day you get to see Nathan Lane give a live performance it's a good day, and this is a play all about star power and insider pop-culture bombs -- example: Nathan Lane's character says, "What do I know? I liked 'The Addams Family,' " referencing the actor's own star vehicle that was not a hit with critics.
Megan Mullally and Stockard Channing are a hoot in "It's Only a Play," and it was especially fun to see Micah Stock and Rupert Grint (yes, Potterites, that Rupert Grint) more than hold their own making their Broadway debuts among a handful of big-name veterans, including Matthew Broderick and F. Murray Abraham.
Maria, Josh and I met for a post-show drink and assessment of the day at Sardi's before some much needed sleep.
Maria and I did our traditional Broadway walk on a less frosty day than the previous two -- we headed Downtown to see the Macy's holiday windows and do some shopping in the revamped store, which is so big, you had better be focused in your shopping needs or have all day to take it in.
Then, homesick for our dogs, we headed toward the Madison Square Park dog run and to two of our favorite New York shopping spots, ABC Carpet and Home and Fishs Eddy, where I could have bought out the store.
For dinner that evening, we were able to make reservations at the Bryant Park Grille, one of my favorite New York eateries. We have run into private events on recent visits, so this was a treat. Maria suggested we check out the gift shop at the adjacent New York Public Library first, and walking through Bryant Park, we were blown away by the variety of shops and food booths in this year's Winter Village. Growing up, I remember "Needle Park" as a place to avoid, but its renaissance has been stunning, especially in winter with a skating rink and carousel now ringed by the village of glass-walled shops.
We agreed we had a shopping date when we learned that they opened at 10 a.m. on Sunday, the last day of our trip.
After the Bryant Park Grille -- Was that a Gummer sister at the table as we walked in? Was that an engagement in progress at the table for two with rose petals and champagne flutes? -- we headed to an early preview of the new musical adaptation of "Honeymoon in Vegas," starring Tony Danza, Rob McClure and Brynn O'Malley. The composer, Jason Robert Brown, was sitting three rows behind us, and I had to wonder what changes might be in the works before the official opening Jan. 15. (No comment here on a show still in previews.)
After the show, Josh went to meet friends in the East Village for an Upright Citizens Brigade set, but Maria and I headed back to the hotel -- there was morning shopping to be done, and we needed our rest.
The weather took a turn for the better, and shop we did! Good prices and a wide selection -- I would recommend the Winter Village to anyone in the Midtown Manhattan area before it closes in mid-January.
We also walked around Rockefeller Center before all meeting up for our final show, the inventive "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." Based on the Mark Haddon book, the show packs an emotional wallop and uses techno-wizardry to get inside the experience of an autistic teen trying to cope with unpleasant truths.
Maria and I had seen a National Theatre Live screening of the London version, which was done in a rectangular format with the audience all around. Here, on a proscenium, the protagonist's inner world is projected from every possible angle -- technology and humanity interacting to great theatrical effect. "The Curious Incident ..." swept up a London's Olivier Awards and I expect to see a lot of at Tony Awards time.
The rest of the day was spent trying to get out of the city. Times Square was packed as I've rarely seen it as we tried to make our way back to our hotel to grab our bags and make it to Penn Station, only to get caught in the crush of a train packed with Giants fans ... Well, at least for us, there was a friend waiting in New Jersey, well past the stadium, with a ride to her house, pizza on the counter and the a room to rest in before facing the turnpike ride back to Pittsburgh.
It was back to work the next day, when the "Newsies" tour came to town. Now it's time to catch up on what else is new in Pittsburgh.