Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on ROCKY, ALADDIN, IF/THEN, LES MISERABLES, ALL THE WAY, MOTHERS AND SONS, THE HEIR APPARENT and SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE.

The mad dash to the Tony Awards is in full swing. April is a great month for theatre audiences, if you have the money to spend on Broadway shows, but the cruelest month for critics, who can barely keep up with everything – and not just on Broadway, as Off Broadway seems to think that the Real Season is in April, too. But on Broadway, where Real Money is at stake, everyone’s playing Tony Roulette. If their number comes up, they can keep playing; if not, goodnight Irene.

There is an unusual amount of competition this season for the Tony for best musical. Thirteen shows, but only four can be nominated. This might surprise you, but one of the most worthy of a nomination is Rocky, at the Winter Garden Theatre, a musicalization of the iconic 1976 film about a two-bit boxer who miraculously gets a shot at the title and almost pulls it off. The book, by Thomas Meehan and none other than Sylvester Stallone takes a cinematic masterpiece and makes it compellingly theatrical, thanks in large part to the brilliant direction by Alex Timbers. The climactic fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed is an incredible piece of stagecraft, as a boxing ring descends from the flies into the house as patrons are herded up onto the stage and seat banks roll in upstage, stage right and stage left, creating a true arena. The 17-minute fight sequence is intricately choreographed. It looks for all the world as if the two fighters are beating the crap out of each other. I’m no fan of boxing – but I am of brilliant choreography, which this truly is.

The songs, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, have come under criticism for being second rate. This is hogwash. Rocky contains one terrific song after another, perfectly integrated into the book and beautifully sung.

As Rocky, Andy Karl has to go up against the great performance of Sylvester Stallone in the film, rather like Rocky has to take on the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. Karl does not try to reproduce Stallone’s performance; his Rocky is all his own, but just as compelling as Stallone’s was. Margot Seibert makes a very touching Adrian; and Dakin Matthews, as Mickey the trainer, is every bit as crusty as Burgess Meredith was. Terrence Archie is wonderful as Apollo Creed, all pomp and bluster until he’s surprised by an opponent who actually may beat him.

When it’s over, the audience stands and cheers – and not just the macho men, either.

ALADDIN at the New Amsterdam Theatre, is a lot better than you may have heard, too. A lot of this is due to Casey Nicholaw, who directed and choreographed this stage adaptation of the animated Disney film. Yes, it’s a cartoon, with platitudinous “messages” like, “Be true to yourself” and “A girl should be able to marry the guy she loves, not the guy her dad has picked for her.” So, don’t go to Aladdin expecting anything profound. Just expect a great-fun evening.

The Aladdin, Adam Jacobs, and the Princess Jasmine, Courtney Reed, are endearing, but the real standout performance comes from James Monroe Inglehart as the Genie, who comes damn close to making you forget about Robin Williams, who voiced the role in the film, and is a strong contender for the Featured Actor Tony Award. His rendition of “A Friend Like Me,” brilliantly staged by Nicholaw, stops the show. Also good are Jonathan Freeman as the villain, Jafar (who voiced the role in the film) and Don Daryl Riviera as his sidekick Iago (not a parrot as in the film, but sort of a toady/henchman).

All the wonderful songs from the film are here, with the addition of a few more which Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken wrote which were cut from the film, the most memorable of which is “Proud of Your Boy,” wherein Aladdin expresses his hope that his dead parents would be proud of him. Yes, it’s a recycling of “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors and “Part of Your World: from The Little Mermaid but that didn’t bother me. It’s a very catchy tune.

Go – you’ll have a great time (unless you’re a jaded cynic).

I wasn’t wild about IF/THEN, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. On the plus side, it has an original book, a rarity in these days of musicals based on movies. On the minus side, the book is awfully convoluted and confusing. Idina Menzel plays a woman who comes back to NYC after 12 years in the boonies (Arizona), her marriage over. Her story is trifurcated, as we follow her in three different what-if scenarios. This starts out being clever but eventually devolves into annoying. It also extends the running time to almost two and a half hours, which is way too long. Had Tom Kitt and Brian Yorket just stuck with one plotline, opting for simplicity over cleverness, the show would have been a lot better.

Still, Idina Menzel is back. She has one of the greatest voices in the history of the musical theatre, and her songs do not disappoint her fans. She’s the best – indeed, the only – reason to see If/Then.

The revival of LES MISERABLES, at the Imperial Theatre, is thrilling. Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have come up with a very different scenography than the iconic original production, and Ramin Karimloo is astounding as Jean Valjean. Will Swenson is no slouch either as Javert.

This is a world-class production of one of the greatest works of the 20th Century musical theatre, and not to be missed.

Robert Shenkkan’s ALL THE WAY, at the Neil Simon Theatre, is a brilliant historical drama about President Johnson and his determinate to ram civil rights legislation through a recalcitrant Congress. President Obama’s current difficulty in getting conservatives to do anything is nothing new. Bryan Cranston is giving the performance of the season as LBJ. He’s nothing less than astonishing, but the entire (large) cast is very strong.

I think this one’s a shoo-in for the Tony Award for Best Play. It’s another don’t-miss.

Terrence McNally’s MOTHERS AND SONS, at the Golden Theatre, is a poignant if somewhat attenuated drama about the mother of a man named Andre who died of Aids 20 years ago, who for some reason decides to visit her son’s lover, much to his dismay and that of his husband, both of whom wonder, “Why now?” The strong acting carries the evening, with Tyne Daly leading the charge as Andre’s mother, but Frederick Weller and Bobby Steggert are also terrific as the gay couple.

While not top-drawer McNally, Mothers and Sons is still worth seeing.

David Ives’ adaptation of an early 18th Century farce by Jean-François Regnard, THE HEIR APPARENT at Classic Stage Co, is a frantically silly rhymed couplet farce, about the efforts of a nephew to ensure that he gets all his wealthy, invalid uncle’s money when he dies. Of the overall fine cast, the standouts are Paxton Whitehead as the old geezer and Carson Elrod as a wiley servant who hopes to get some if his dough too so that he can marry his lady love, a serving wench. Director John Rando keeps things at a fast pace, making the comedy as broad as you can imagine. Some of this is hilarious – some is just plain silly. If you’re in the mood for silly, you couldn’t do much better.

SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE, at the Players Club, is Yet Another audience emersive event. They bring you into the Players through a back alleyway, into the dining room which has been cleared of tables, and you’re in 1919, at the start of Prohibition. You’re let in at 7:45. Then you stand around for 45 minutes until the “show” begins. You’re supposed to wander through the Players wherever you choose. There are so many people, though, that it usually impossible to observe anything. I started out watching a terrible puppet show about the nesting habits of birds in the Galapagos Islands, then trudged upstairs where there was a card game going on. One of the players was Mark Twain. This mostly consisted of boring small talk. I finally gave up and went back down to the dining room, where there were various women singing songs of the period, one of whom was a stripper/contortionist. Finally, I gave up entirely and ditched.

Speakeasy Dollhouse, is totally chaotic and disorganized.

ROCKY. Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
ALADDIN. New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717
IF/THEN. Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717
LES MISERABLES. Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
ALL THE WAY. Neil Simon Theatre. 250 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717
MOTHERS AND SONS. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE HEIR APPARENT. Classic Stage Co., 136 E. 13th St,
TICKETS: 212-677-4210
SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE. Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park S.
TICKETS: www.speakeasydollhouse.com

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

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

Share