“Prince of Broadway” has been variously compared to a highlight reel, a mix-tape and a best-of list. Simply stated, “Prince” is a compilation of musical numbers from sixteen of the twenty-or-so Broadway musicals produced and/or directed by Harold Prince. Performed by nine Broadway veterans over two acts, the numbers span Prince’s career, from “The Pajama Game” and “Damn Yankees” in the 1950s through “Phantom of the Opera,” directed some 30 years after those early successes.
In between, and also represented here, were “West Side Story,” “Follies,” “Cabaret” and “Sweeney Todd,” to name a few. (They weren’t all hits: remember “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman”? Me neither.) The critical reaction to the show has been lukewarm at best; I rather liked it.
Tony Yazbeck and Kaley Ann Voorhees from “West Side Story”
For starters, the F in “F Theory,” world-premiering at New Jersey Repertory Company, does not stand for what you are thinking. No; it represents friendship, in this case not even with benefits, so if you stop reading now and go back to surfing Facebook, I’ll understand.
The friendship in the play is between two women who meet as college roommates and whose relationship endures – for better and for worse, in richer and poorer, etc. – into old age. Theirs is a friendship-interruptus, with alternating periods of bonding and ghosting as their experiences and values variously coincide and diverge. A show of hands, please, from those who have never had an on-again, off-again friendship? Didn’t think so.
Pinpointing a target audience for some shows is easy. Ten-to-twelve-year-old girls whose parents took them to “Annie” were seen a decade or so later with one another at “Rent,” while their college professors were at a revival of “Mourning Becomes Electra.” Along those lines, it is unsurprising that, at a recent Saturday matinee of “Curvy Widow,” I sat among a couple hundred women within shouting distance of 55, either way. And judging by their reactions, they were all having a fine time, vicariously sharing the racy activities of leading character Bobby, one of their own, played with earthy humor by Nancy Opel, one of their own. (Admittedly, I got into it, too, just not to the same extent.)
Nancy Opel, center, and the “Curvy Widow” cast [Photos: Matthew Murphy]
Settings and casting variations on Shakespeare are virtually infinite. “Othello” in an Army barracks? “Shrew” on a Dude Ranch? A female Prospero or even Richard III? A campy “Pericles” set in a tavern? Been there, seen that.
Due to its being the most widely produced of Shakespeare’s plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is beneficiary (or victim) of an outsized number of such constructs. In 2014, for example, the Stratford Festival in Ontario had two men alternating performances as Oberon and Titania on the main stage, while in a nearby venue four intense young actors presented a “chamber” version that turned it into a dirge (no easy task).
How refreshing, now, to see the romantic, magical work played where it is largely set, in an open-air nocturnal park, and cast by-the-gender (mostly), if not by-the-book (hardly). The comedy, as funny here as you’ll ever see it, is a perfect fit for The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in Central Park, where last month a recognizable Julius Caesar bought the farm. No killings or politics in this one.
In life there are the care-givers, the care-receivers, and those who simply don’t care. All three are represented in Scott McPherson’s “Marvin’s Room,” finally debuting on Broadway, thanks to Roundabout Theatre Company, after its 1990s Regional and off-Broadway runs. Like other socially conscious plays from that era – Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart” comes to mind – “Marvin’s Room” attempts to mesh Drama and Comedy, and, like “Heart,” it succeeds.
McPherson’s play was inspired by the circumstances of some older Florida relatives in declining health and further influenced by his personal experience caring for his AIDS-afflicted partner, cartoonist and activist Daniel Sotomayor, who died in February 1992 at age 33. In a tragic irony, the playwright himself succumbed to the same scourge nine months later, also at 33.
Lily Taylor, Janeane Garofalo and Jack DiFalco [Photo: Joan Marcus]
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative disease found in people who have suffered repeated blows to the head. Symptoms, which manifest themselves eight-to-ten years later, begin with memory loss and general physical, social and judgmental instability, leading inexorably to dementia and a propensity to harm others…or oneself. There is now a play about a retired NFL linebacker exhibiting symptoms of CTE. What took so long?
Ken Weitzman’s “Halftime With Don,” simultaneously world-premiering at New Jersey Repertory Company and a couple other U. S. houses, is a fictional drama whose most interesting portions are semi-documentary. This is not a knock, by any means. The well-founded points made about CTE add to a sense of reality. (The play is not about football per se, but name-checking such as Junior Seau and Mike Webster drive the theme home.)