LETTER FROM NEW YORK

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Were it not for the fact that a former voice student of my wife’s is starring in one of the leads, we would have given FROZEN a pass and gone in search of warmer theatrical climates outside the Disney world of princesses with frozen hearts and little hint of fire in their loins. But attend we did, and our friend Noah J. Ricketts, in a terrific triple-threat turn in the role of Kristoff made it all worthwhile, even the getting bathed in snow confetti at the end of the show.

There has been so much buzz about the opening of THE SHED, the new performing arts facility at the Hudson Yards that I talked myself and my long suffering Kimberly to shell out a couple of hundred dollars for tickets to something titled NORMA JEAN BAKER OF TROY.

Featuring the androgynous English stage actor Ben Wishaw, and the former Opera star Renee Fleming now starting a new career in Broadway musicals and cabaret, with English director Katie Mitchell staging a text that is neither poetry nor drama, with a score that mixes electronic sounds and digital and acoustic singing and banjo playing, and set on a dimly lit and monochromatic set, the ninety-minute, intermission-less exercise in pretentiousness left both of us along with much of the audience that remained after quite a few walkouts totally exhausted and bored.

After the chills of FROZEN and NORMA JEAN BAKER OF TROY we were owed an evening of good old Broadway heat. KISS ME KATE in the intimate Studio 54, home to the Roundabout Theatre Company delivered class, pizzazz, and enchantment by spades.

With the incomparable Kelly O’Hara in the part of operetta diva Lili Vanessi, and a hard-working supporting cast directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, this rethinking of Cole Porter’s original avoided the perils of reverentially reviving an old show, creating instead a thoroughly contemporary too darn hot two and one half hours of pleasure.

We had secured tickets for five nights of theater while in NYC, and promised ourselves not to overdo the theatergoing, leaving daytimes for other New York adventures. But at the last minute Kimberly surprised me with tickets for KING LEAR on the same day when we were seeing NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE at the Mitzy Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center.

We went to the John Guare play about an old playwright with regrets about life and playwriting after having brunch with a long term friend from our Boston days. The rambling, dense and slow moving comedy, (in spite of Jerry Zacks’ direction) seen sitting on uncomfortable seats made us regret not the brunch with our friend, but our choice of play for that afternoon.

That evening we went to the Cort Theatre to see Glenda Jackson as Lear in King Lear. From the moment the 82 year old actress entered the stage we knew we were in for a performance of a lifetime. I try never to read the reviews and often try not to listen to conflicting opinions before I see a play.

Afterwards, I have read objections to the directorial choices of Sam Gold, and yet maintain that I liked what we saw: a no-nonsense, straightforward take on a great play, not once marred by directorial eccentricities, with one of the great actresses of our time surrounded by a strong multi-ethnic cast and all the while belying the old theatrical saying that when you are old enough to play Lear you are too old to play Lear.

Our week of theatergoing in NYC climaxed on Sunday afternoon with Bryan Cranston turning out what Kimberly said was possibly the greatest performance she had ever seen by an actor. I would not hesitate to agree with her, saying that I cannot recall ever seeing in over sixty years of theatre-going a more riveting depiction of a human being literally imploding before our eyes.

Dutch director Ivo Van Hove has crafted a multi-media production of Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s film NETWORK that grabs one in the gut within the first five minutes and does not let go for one second of its two no-intermission hours.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

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