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 MEAN GIRLS, HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, CAROUSEL, THREE TALL WOMEN, TRAVESTIES, SAINT JOAN, MLIMA’S TALE and A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Mean Girls, the new musical at the August Wilson Theatre, as I have not seen the film. Turns out, it’s about social pressures in a high school and focuses on a new girl who’s been living in Africa with her biologist parents, who decide to move back to the U.S., enrolling their daughter Cady in what I take to be a typical high school these days, full of back-stabbing cliques, the most powerful of which is led by a ruthless girl named Regina There are, however, two kids who stand aside from it all, Damian and Janis, who befriend Cady when everyone else has ostracized her, and they hatch a plot to bring Regina down by having Cady infiltrate her clique. She does, but begins to morph into another Regina.

Tina Fey’s adaptation of her film is really delightful, and is the best part of the show. The songs (music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin) are not as good, but there are a couple of them that stand out. Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography are mighty fine, and the performers are terrific – most notably, Erika Henningsen as Cady and Taylor Louderman as Regina, who is horrifyingly good. I also enjoyed Ashley Park and Kate Rockwell as Regina’s acolytes and, particularly, Grey Henson and Barrett Wilbert Weed as Damian and Janis, the two kids who befriend Cady. Damian is a jolly gay guy, Janis an artsy type, and Henson and Weed are great fun.

Mean Girls is not exactly for sentient adults, but if it achieves a long run it will be huge in high schools, right up there with Grease and Bye, Bye, Birdie.

I somehow missed the Harry Potter phenomenon (haven’t read the books, didn’t see the movies), so I went to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Lyric Theatre, as a total neophyte. I was bowled over.

Harry, who has married the sister of his Hogwarts chum Ron Weasley, is employed at the Ministry of Magic, run by Hermione, who has married Ron, now a shopkeeper who sells jokes, ermioneHand as this two-part play begins Harry, now 38, is sending his son Albus, after Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts’ headmaster when Harry was a student there (Albus’ middle name is Severus, after Snape) off to Hogwarts. Albus is a surly, rebellious teenager, deeply resentful of having to live up to his famous father. Fortunately, he makes a friend at Hogwarts, who helps him cope. This is Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry’s nemesis at Hogwarts, Draco Malfoy. The two of them hatch a plan to make their own reputations, by traveling back in time, using an illicit device they steal from the Ministry of Magic, to prevent the evil Lord Voldemort from inadvertently killing a boy when he was trying to kill Harry. Although they are unsuccessful in their efforts, they screw up the time continuum, and when they arrive back to the present, they find that the present is now a totalitarian state ruled by Voldemort. Will Albus and Scorpius somehow be able to

undo the damage they have done?

 

Jack Thorne’s script, based on a scenario by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany, is enthralling, though extremely convoluted. With the epic scope of myth. I was helped to follow it enormously by the extensive program notes detailing the plot of all the Harry Potter books.

As for the production, directed by Tiffany, it’s absolutely astonishing, with one amazing special effect after another. All the actors are outstanding, but special kudos most go to Anthony Boyle, whose Scorpius Malfoy practically steals the show.

Reportedly, the show is sold out for months. I’m not surprised. Yes, tickets are expensive; but this one is really worth it.

This just in: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has won the Outer Critics Circle’s Best New Broadway Play Award. It will almost certainly win the Tony Award in several categories, including Best New Play. Meanwhile, it was not even nominated by the Drama Desk for Best New Play. I understand that the DD honors both Broadway and Off Broadway in the same categories, but traditionally they have six nominees per category. In the Best Play category, they have five. Which flabbergasts me.

The new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, at the Imperial Theatre, directed by Jack O’Brien, is splendid. A black actor, Joshua Henry, has been cast as the ne’er-do-well carnival barker Billy Bigelow, which makes perfect sense as Billy is a social outsider, and Henry is outstanding, with a beautiful bass voice and an enormous amount of charisma. Jessie Mueller is a perfect Julie Jordan, and opera diva Renée Fleming is wonderful as Nettie. Her rendition of “You’ll Never Walk alone” will lift up your soul. Lindsay Mendez is delightful as Julie’s saucy friend Carrie, as is Alexander Geminiani as Mr, Snow, and Amar Ramasar, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, turns out to be a fine actor as well as the evil Jigger.

But the real star of the show is Justin Peck, the Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet, whose dances are wonderful. Jonathan Tunick’s new orchestrations enhance the choreography, making this Carousel for more dance-heavy than other productions have been.

This is a beautiful production, well-worth seeing.

When Three Tall Women premiered, it won the Pulitzer Prize, marking Edward Albee’s recovery from years of critical disfavor. Now, we have a chance to see the play again, in an exquisite production by Joe Mantello at the Golden Theatre. The play has an unusual structure. In the first half, it’s about three different women – an old lady, her middle aged caregiver and a young woman trying to sort out the old lady’s finances. In the second half, the characters are the same woman at three stages of her life. This seems to me more of a clever gimmick than effective drama, in that the entire play is more or less comprised of exposition.

So, while I am not a fan of the play, I have to say that the cast is superb. Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalfe and Allison Pill – it doesn’t get much better that this.

The revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, at the American Airlines Theatre is, like the revival of Three Tall Women, a highly cerebral play; but it’s a lot more fun than Albee’s. It’s central character and narrator, Henry Carr, played brilliantly by Tom Hollander, claims to have been the British Consul in Zurich during World War One, where his life intersected with the likes of Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tsara, the founder of an anti-art movement called “Dadaism.” According to Carr, he could have prevented Lenin from going to Russia to take over the revolution, which would have changed the course of history. In fact, Carr is a highly unreliable, daffy narrator.

Loaded with wild puns and limericks, mixed with multiple references to The Importance of Being Earnest (the only thing that’s true is that Carr appeared as Algernon in a production of Wilde’s farce directed by Joyce, after which Carr sued Joyce for the cost of a pair of trousers and Joyce sued Carr for the cost of unsold tickets), Travesties is an intellectual roller coaster ride which manages to encapsulate the chaos of the 20th Century in the mind of one slightly demented man.

Patrick Marber’s production is perfectly paced, and his cast first rate. Warning, though: if you don’t know The Importance of Being Earnest, you’ll probably miss a lot of the fun.

Any time one gets to see a production of a play by George Bernard Shaw, it’s a must-see, and the current revival of Saint Joan, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is no exception. As always with Shaw, it’s the ideas that crackle. As an atheist, one would not expect him to accept Joan’s divine visions at face value, of course. What interests him is Joan the revolutionary. She had to be burnt, he says, because she posed a threat to the establishment – both religious and secular.

Daniel Sullivan has set the play on a bare stage against what appears to be an enormous, gleaming carillon, designed by Scott Pask. His cast is excellent, by and large, although I just don’t think Condola Rashad cuts it in the title role, particularly in the first act, when she’s supposed to inspire the French to defeat the English.

 

Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale, at the Public Theater, is a gripping drama about the African ivory trade whose central character in an elephant, brilliantly embodied by Sahr Ngaujah. Trade in ivory has been made illegal, but that doesn’t stop poachers from killing Mlima, or traders from figuring a way to game the corrupt government to get his tusks out of the country.

 

Nottage’s language is very beautiful and powerful, and the cast, under Jo Bonney’s inventive direction, is wonderful, all playing multiple roles except for Ngaujah. Meticulously researched but not ponderously so, Mlima’s Tale is one of the high points of this season. See it if you can.

Any time there’s a new play by Alan Ayckbourn, it’s also a must-see. Such is the case with A Brief History of Women, at 59E59, though the play is not so much about women as it is about a house, in this case an English manor, which morphs into a school, an arts centre and, finally a hotel. The play is actually four interrelated one acts, tied together by a central character named Anthony Spates, who starts out as a part-time servant at the manor, becomes a teacher, then an arts administrator and finally, a retired hotel manager filling in for the day. Antony Eden is perfectly understated as Spates.

Ayckbourn’s production lurches brilliantly from pathos to farce and back again, and his actors, all from his company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, are wonderful.

See this one if you can – it’s great.

MEAN GIRLS. August Wilson Theatre, 245 W. 52nd St.

Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD. Lyric Theatre, 214 W. 43rd St.

Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

CAROUSEL. Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.

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

THREE TALL WOMEN. John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

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

TRAVESTIES. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

Tickets: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300

SAINT JOAN. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.

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

MLIMA’S TALE. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

Tickets: www.publictheater.org or 212-967-7555

A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN. 59E59. 59 E. 59th St.

Tickets: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

 

“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