The Honeymooners at Paper Mill Playhouse; Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade; from left to right: Leslie Kritzer (Alice), Laura Bell Bundy (Trixie), Michael Mastro (Norton) and Michael McGrath (Ralph)
I wanted to like THE HONEYMOONERS, A New Musical Comedy. It has great characters played by great actors; just look at that cast! But what book writers Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss don’t know about the construction of a musical is stupefying. In the first act alone there are two big “let’s celebrate” numbers that are totally unearned. What the hell are they celebrating? All of the comedic “bits” from the original show are here, but they trot them out for display, rather than use them to any effect. The outcome is a string of TV sitcom episodes pasted together with songs thrown in to try to make a musical.
The second act is marginally satisfying, but the music is forgettable and the lyrics are clumsy. If you want to watch “The Honeymooners,” I would suggest YouTube. There are plenty of old episodes there for free. And let’s hope that the next projects for Michael McGrath, Leslie Kritzer, Laura Bell Bundy and Michael Mastro will be worthy of their estimable talents.
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Josh Groban as Pierre with the cast of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, photo by Chad Batka.
NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 has a lot in common with HAMILTON. Based on large books, both are sung-through (meaning there is no spoken dialogue), both use a mixture of musical styles including anachronistic modern genres, both have duels, both are created by a single person writing book, music & lyrics and both represent a new wave in American Musical Theater. Having rich base material to draw on helps both shows create intricately detailed plots, deeply drawn characters and insightful storytelling.
For those of you who didn’t make it through Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE in school, have no fear. This is a raucous, fascinating musical based on a few chapters of WAR AND PEACE and there is no chance of you falling asleep. Composer/Lyricist/Bookwriter Dave Malloy has gone out of his way to make everything clear with an Opening Number that introduces the characters. I was not a Josh Groban fan going in, but he is perfectly cast as the introspective, corpulent Pierre and his singing and acting shine through on his journey of awakening.
The Set looks like a multi-layered wedding cake in the style of The Russian Tea Room, with audience on all tiers. There is a runway stretching through the theater, where the chorus comes out to feebly draw us into the performance. The lighting is innovative, if sometimes blinding. The tuneful music has moments of divinity and there is some of the best choral work this side of THE COLOR PURPLE. However, I would not recommend this show to anyone who only favors old-fashioned Musicals. This is Art. Sublime, delicious Art.
Josh Groban sings “Dust and Ashes” from NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812.
Cirque Du Soleil’s PARAMOUR, playing at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway, is strictly for people who adore Acrobatics. The plot is comparable to writing as a stick figure is to drawing, the music is instantly forgettable and the performances make wood seem affecting. I would love to tell you who designed the gorgeous Sets and which Acrobats were amazing, but the only free program available is by way of a website and I had no cell phone coverage. Suffice it to say, this is the first time in decades that I have seen a Broadway show get a sitting ovation.
Why anyone would open a competing circus show in the New York area at the same time as their Broadway Musical is beyond me, but I hear that Cirque Du Soleil’s Steampunk KURIOS, CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, now playing at Randall’s Island park, is a better option.