Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on WARHORSE, THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT, THE NORMAL HEART,  BORN YESTERDAY, BABY IT’S YOU, THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE, KNICKERBOCKER, CRADLE AND ALL, LUCKY GUY.

I was a member of the Nominating Committee of the Drama Desk this season, which involved seeing and evaluating over 250 eligible productions, whittle down a lengthy shortlist in each category to 6 (in 5 cases, 7) nominees. What an experience! Finally, I have the time to write about some of the amazing shows I saw. Here goes.

At the top of my list has to be WARHORSE at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, sure to be the most honored play and production of this season. So far, it’s won both the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk awards for best play, and most likely will win the Tony. The play, by Nick Stafford, is an adaptation of a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo. Set before and during World War I, it tells the story of a boy and his horse. We begin in England, where young Albert Narracott is given the task of raising a foal, whom he names Joey. War breaks out, and Albert’s ne’er-do-well father sells Joey to the army. Albert, only 16, enlists to go to France to find and save his horse.

I have heard and read several comments that the huge success of Warhorse is because of its spectacular production, that the play itself is “sentimental.” To which I respond: And that’s a bad thing?? Warhorse is in my top five greatest evenings I have spent in the theatre, and I can truly say it is worth the money you’ll have to spend to see it. Bring plenty of Kleenex.

Also wonderful, though a different kind of wonderful, is Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf**ker with the Hat, at the Schoenfeld Theatre, a hilarious comedy about a recovering addict and ex-con who discovers that his girlfriend is sleeping with his AA sponsor. Bobby Cannavale just won the Drama Desk Award for his performance, and both Elizabeth Rodriguez and Yul Vasquez are Tony-nominated. Anna D. Schapiro’s direction is brilliant. Guirgis has now joined the A-list of American playwrights. This one’s a don’t-miss.

As is the revival of The Normal Heart at the Golden Theatre. I saw the original production at the Public Theatre, which was terrific; but this new production, brilliantly directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe, is even better. A-List director Joe Mantello has returned to acting and is wonderful as Ned Weeks, the nebbish who becomes a passionate AIDS activist; but all the actors are great. There’s a reason why the Drama Desk gave this cast a special ensemble award, and there is also a reason why it won their award for best revival. As with Warhorse, bring plenty of Kleenex.

For some reason, the revival of Born Yesterday (at the Cort Theatre) isn’t doing very well at the box office, despite the presence in the cast of Jim Belushi and Robert Sean Leonard, and despite the raves of all raves Nina Arianda has received for her hilarious portrayal of Billie Dawn. Hence, I expect the show will close shortly after the Tony awards, as do so many which fail to win the Tony Roulette. Doug Hughes’ production is wonderful, the stars are great and the play is hilarious, not to mention oh-so-timely in its depiction of an unscrupulous businessman who’s come to Washington basically to buy Congress. If you miss this one, you’ll regret it.

You won’t, however, regret it if you miss Baby, It’s You (Broadhurst Theatre) or The People in the Picture (Studio 54). The former is a jukebox musical about Florence Greenberg, a NJ housewife who became a successful record producer in the early 1960’s, discovering and promoting the Shirelles. I am not one of those people who has anything against jukebox musicals, per se, if they are well done; but the book of this show is terrible. Beth Leavel is enjoyable as Our Heroine, although she sings so well I kept wondering why she didn’t record herself. In other words, it should have been a non-singing role, in which has been cast a Broadway belter. The People in the Picture also features a Broadway diva, Donna Murphy, who is the only reason to see this awful show about an old lady who was once the star of a Jewish theatre troupe in Poland during World War II.

Two recent plays dealt with the subject of parenthood – Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Knickerbocker, at the Public Theater, and Daniel Goldfarb’s Cradle and All at Manhattan Theatre Club. The former is a tedious play about a 40 year-old man who’s about to become a father for the first time and consists of scenes which take place at the same table in a restaurant, wherein he agonizes over whether or not he’s ready. The guy’s a metrosexual moron. None of the actors are particularly good with the exception of Bob Dishy as the guy’s dad, who appears in the final scene. Much better is Cradle and All, which is actually two connected one-acts about two couples, both played by Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller. In the first, she’s pushing 40 and wants to have a baby. He doesn’t. Probably, they’re about to split up as a result. In the second, they’re the exhausted couple next door who have a baby who won’t stop crying. Both plays are wonderfully directed and acted.

Sadly, Lucky Guy has closed. This was a hilarious country-western spoofy-doof of a musical at the Little Shubert Theatre which featured delightful performances, top-notch CW songs and incredibly witty costumes by William Ivey Long. A.C. Ciulla’s choreography was laugh-out-loud funny. The show actually did get some good reviews (contrary to what you’ve read); but undercapitalization and high running costs doomed it. Lucky Guy was a hoot. Sorry you missed it.

That’s all for now. More to come on other shows in a few days.

WARHORSE. Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE NORMAL HEART. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

BORN YESTERDAY. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

BABY IT’S YOU. Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

KNICKERBOCKER. Public Theater. closed

CRADLE AND ALL. Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St.

TICKETS: 212-581-1212

LUCKY GUY. Alas, closed

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

—– George F. Will

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