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 THE BOOK OF MORMON, PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT, ANYTHING GOES, HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, WONDERLAND, SISTER ACT, TOMORROW MORNING, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and HELLO AGAIN.

A bunch of new musicals and plays (and some revivals) have opened in the last two weeks, all desperately hoping to win the Tony Sweepstakes. This week, I’m telling you about all the musicals I’ve seen so far.

Fans of “South Park” have much to cheer with the arrival of The Book of Mormon, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. SP’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker have crafted a hilarious book – the funniest since The Producers — the story of two naïve young Mormon missionaries who get sent to Uganda where they have the difficult task of converting people in a small rural village to the gospel according to Joseph Smith and the Angel Moroni. It’s a hopeless task, made even more hopeless by the fact that have to contend with a local warlord with an unprintable name (even for me) who is going around snipping the clits of every woman he can catch.

Yes, this is wildly funny; but it’s also incredibly raunchy. I think the show’s creators went too far; but then, I’m an old fuddy-duddy. I will admit, I laughed a lot (guiltily, though), and I loved Matthew Lopez’ score. Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad are both wonderful as the clueless missionaries, as is Nikki M. James as a young woman with the last intact clitoris in the village.

I also had a good time at Priscilla, Queen of The Desert, at the Palace Theatre, an adaptation of the Australian film about three drag queens on a cross-country journey from Sidney into the outback. Alan Scott and Stephan Elliott have crafted a delightful book, into which they have grafted pop songs from the disco era, such as “It’s Raining Men” and the Village People’s “Go West.” Yes, folks, this is a “jukebox musical;” you know, like Mamma Mia. I loved it. I loved the performances by the three leads (Will Swenson, Tony Shelton and Nick Adams – particularly, Shelton, who is touching as the lovelorn Bernadette). Most of all, I loved Tim Chappel’s and Lizzy Gardiner’s spectacular costumes, which are shoo-ins for the Tony Award.

Here’s how much I loved Priscilla, Queen of The Desert: I would pay to see it again, and as soon as possible.

The Roundabout has mounted a stylish, de-lovely revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, starring Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney. I assume you know the cornball plot about romance on a voyage to England, so let me just say that the production, which is directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, is absolutely marvelous.

As for the Star of the Show, Sutton Foster, what can I say other than this is Yet Another demonstration of why she is the biggest female musical comedy star of her generation. Fortunately, she is ably supported by a fine cast which includes John McMartin as the jolly tippler Elisha Whitney, Laura Osnes as the ingénue Hope Harcourt, Colin Donnell as Billy Crocker and Adam Godley as Lord Evelyn Oakley. I wasn’t wild about Joel Grey as Moonface Martin, but I seem to be in the minority.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, at the Hirschfeld Theatre, is also quite delightful. The satire of corporate culture holds up well, and Rob Ashford’s direction and choreography are quite witty. Surprisingly, Daniel Radcliffe has the requisite skills to pull off the role of Finch, the young nobody who climbs the corporate ladder to the very top of the heap. He sings and dances well, and he acts the role with tongue-in-cheek aplomb. John Larroquette is perfectly pompous as Bigley, and Rose Hemingway is charming as Rosemary. Of the other supporting players my favorite performance is Tammy Blanchard’s as Hedy LaRue, Bigley’s bimbo mistress who, like Finch, is trying to climb the corporate ladder – which is even harder for her because she’s trying to do this on her back. Blanchard is absolutely hilarious.

Both Anything Goes and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying are first-rate revivals as well as great fun. Don’t miss either one.

I had high hopes for Catch Me if You Can, at the Neil Simon Theatre. The book is by Terrence McNally, one of my favorite playwrights, and the songs are by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, who wrote the songs for Hairspray. But it just didn’t grab me. I think part of the problem is that its creators have decided to use the device of a tacky 1960s variety show to tell their story, which includes the inevitable chorus line of leggy cuties which even I found tiresome after a while. I kept waiting for Dean Martin to wander in, drink in hand, to sing “That’s Amore.” Once trapped in this concept, they can do little to escape it.

Aaron Tveit, as young con man Frank Abagnale, Jr., sings well but he never is able to break out of the constraint imposed upon him by the authors. What should have been a breakout star turn just seems rather bland, particularly when compared with the performance of a real Broadway star, Norbert Leo Butz, as the FBI agent leading the team which is trying to catch Frank. Butz has one of show’s two best songs, “Don’t Break the Rules,” with which he stops the show. The other song is a beautiful ballad “Fly, Fly Away,” sung by Kerry Butler, who appears briefly as the nurse Frank almost marries, before he has to go once again on the lam.

I’m not saying that Catch Me if You Can is bad – it’s not. A lot of the time it’s quite delightful. It’s just that it has to compete for your dollar with The Book of Mormon and Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Anything Goes and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Sister Act (which I’ll get to shortly), as well as Baby It’s You and The People in the Picture (neither of which I’ve seen yet, so no comment). Compared to those, for pure entertainment value it can’t compete. Musical comedy fans should definitely see it. Civilians, you could miss it.

Whenever I write about a show, I try to imagine who might like it and then write for that person. I sat there at Wonderland, the new Frank Wildhorn musical at the Marquis Theatre, trying to envision that person. An “American Idol” fan, maybe? A Wildhorn fanatic? A Jekkie? If you’re one of these, by all means go. You’ll encounter a pretty witless attempt to modernize Alice in Wonderland, by re-imagining Alice as a soon-to-be single Mom (she’s separated from her husband because he has lost his job, which makes her an unsympathetic character for 49% of the population — i.e., men) and sending her down the service elevator in the apartment building where she is staying with her so-to-be ex’s mother into a tacky “wonderland” where the Caterpillar is a jivin’ dude and the Mad Hatter a demonic dominatrix. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, all Alice wants to do is find her way home, and she’s helped to that end by the White Knight, here envisioned as a comic book superhero wannabe. She also has a daughter named Chloe who’s kidnapped by the Mad Hatter’s fearsome minions as part of her plot to depose the Queen of Hearts.

Janet Dacal is OK as Alice, in a part which could have used some star wattage (I kept imagining what Sutton Foster might have done with the part). Carly Rose Sonenclar, as Chloe, is the reincarnation of Andrea McArdle as Annie. What a voice! I kept wishing she’d sing “Tomorrow.” I also enjoyed Darren Ritchie as the charmingly goofy White Night. His performance of one of the best songs in the show, “One Knight,” done with backup superhero sidekicks like a boy band, stops the show.

Wonderland tries really hard to be another Wicked. I’m sure that’s how they sold it to investors who, sadly, are gonna lose their dough on this misfire.

Sister Act, at the Broadway Theatre, is a musical version of the popular Whoopi Goldberg film. I have no idea how it compares to the film, which I haven’t seen, so all I can say is that on its own it is great fun. Alan Menken’s music is loaded with Broadway pizzazz and Alan Slater’s lyrics are very witty. Director Jerry Zaks keeps things spinning along at a hilarious clip, and the show features a Star Is Born performance by Patina Miller as a wannabe singer who finds herself in a convent where she has to hide out from her ex-boyfriend, who’s trying to kill her as she witnessed him commit a murder. Broadway stalwart Victoria Clark is also delightful as the Mother Superior.

Off Broadway, there’s a charming little musical by the York Theatre at Theatre at. St. Peter’s called Tomorrow Morning, The characters are two couples, one at the start of their relationship and the other at the end, who turn out to be the same people ten years apart. Laurence Marc Whyte wrote the whole shebang, and his score consists of one lovely song after another. This show has been derided as shamelessly sentimental, in that it doesn’t wind up being cynical about love and romance. I’m an old softie who still believes in both, so I found the show very poignant. All four performers are terrific, too.

I wasn’t wild about Peccadillo’s revival of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which has closed after a very successful run at the Theatre at St. Clement’s. The songs by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields were the best part, but the show itself just seemed too old-fashioned, and Peccadillo’s production looked like community theatre. Don’t feel bad if you missed this.

Also closed is the Transport Group’s revival of the Michael John LaChiusa musical Hello Again, based on Schnitzler’s La Ronde, which was done as “environmental theatre” in a large loft. You sat at a table and the action took place all around you, and sometimes right there on the table. This action involved a lot of, well, fucking, which I found distasteful (but then, I’m a prude – when the actors in a film I’m seeing start going at it, I go out for popcorn). The performers were excellent, but the main problem for me with this show was LaChiusa’s music, which I have never liked and which in this show was as boring as all his other scores.

Hello Again was a Hot Ticket. Don’t feel bad, though, if you missed it.

THE BOOK OF MORMON. Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St.

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

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT. Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or (877) 250-2929/(800) 755-4000

ANYTHING GOES. Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St.

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

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING.

Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St.

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

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or (877) 250-2929

WONDERLAND. Marquis Theatre, 1534 Broadway

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or (877) 250-2929/(800) 755-4000

SISTER ACT. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway\

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

TOMORROW MORNING. Theatre at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Ave (Citicorp Center)

TICKETS: 212-935-5820 or www.yorktheatre.org

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. Closed

HELLO AGAIN. 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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