Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino’s “A Catered Affair” is not a huge screaming, brassy, rip-roaring Broadway musical. True, it has big Bway belter Faith Prince in the cast. Yes, that former “Dukes Of Hazzard” star Tom Wopat is up there on the stage as well. And so is larger than life Mr. Fierstein himself. And yet, what’s up there doesn’t scream at you or overwhelm you with overamplified bass. No, “A Catered Affair” tells its story and quietly, oh so beautifully, creeps up on you and wraps itself around you by the end of its 90 minutes. Based on the 50’s weepie starring Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, the musical tells the story of a Bronx family trying to throw one of its own a big, lavish wedding it simply can’t afford. Faith Prince plays Aggie, who wants to give her daughter the start in married life she didn’t have. Wopat plays her cab driver husband Tom, who wants to spend the money on the family’s future, his own stake in a taxi. And Harvey Fierstein plays Winston, the bachelor uncle who functions as a sort of Greek chorus throughout. The surprise in this piece is how powerful it is without going over the top. “A Catered Affair” is like taking a long, luxurious bath. It lulls you into a sense of well-being and bliss with its simple story and powerful emotions. The score is like that, too. One song flows into another, aiding and abetting the book without overpowering it. And besides Prince, Fierstein and Wopat, “Affair” also boasts a knockout performance by Leslie Kritzer, who plays the daughter who would prefer to elope. She is a jewel in this show’s crown and a delightful comedienne as well. Musicals as low key as this are not rule on Broadway these days, but this one is truly worthy of your time. It’s a story everyone will relate to.
Over at Lincoln Center, downstairs from “South Pacific”, the author of “Jeffrey” and “I Hate Hamlet”, Paul Rudnick, has a quartet of one acts playing under the umbrella title “The New Century”, as funny a 2 hours as you’ll find anywhere in the city, with a group of actors most playwrights would die for. Linda Lavin has been away from the NY stage awhile, so it’s good to see her back on the boards, especially as a Long Island mother with three “special” children, trying to keep her sense of humor and her sanity. Jayne Houdyshell, who was terrific earlier this season in “The Receptionist” is in top form here as well, playing an Ohio craftsperson on a special mission. And Peter Bartlett, everyone’s favorite butler from “One Life To Live”, plays the role he was born for, that of Mr. Charles, a flamboyant gay man who’s been kicked out of New York for being “too gay”. Special mention should be made, too, of Mike Doyle, as Mr. Charles’s ward Shane, who gets to show every facet of his talent in a series of eye catching and well played appearances. If laughter is the best medicine, consider Paul Rudnick your physician on call. You rarely hear an audience howling the way the crowds are in the Mitzi Newhouse Theater right now.
The actresses in Caryl Churchill’s “Top Girls” are a formidable group, even if the play itself might leave your head somewhat spinning. Performed at the Public Theater back in the early 80’s,and now on Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club production, the play is a solid attack on the way women are subjugated by society and forced into specific roles throughout their lives. The first act consists of a fantastical dinner party assembling powerful women through the centuries for repast and conversation. Acts Two and Three take place in contemporary London, and while the politics and prose could possibly leave you in the dust, these stellar actresses should NOT be missed. I can single out Elizabeth Marvel first and foremost for her brilliance throughout, but there is superb work from Marisa Tomei, Martha Plimpton, Mary Beth Hurt and Jennifer Ikeda as well. A collection of actresses this good should always be paid attention to.
Briefly, there are a few short runs to consider while you can catch them. At the Rattlestick Theater on Waverly Place, there’s the decidedly odd play, “Steve and Idi”, about a playwright’s ghostly encounter with the spirit of Idi Amin, who commands said writer to come up with a sympathetic portrayal of him in a new play. Not for everybody, but sometimes very funny. At Manhattan Theatre Club, there’s the clever piece, “The Four of Us”, about two writers dealing with success and what it brings. The two actors in this work, Gideon Banner and Michael Esper, are so worth catching. And at The New Group, there’s the British hit, “Rafta, Rafta” about British-Indians in modern London.A little something for everyone in this charming little comedy.