Let us talk about the end of season. No, that’s not Shakespeare I’m quoting, but it’s a clever paraphrase to alert all of you to what’s going on as the official Broadway season comes to an end. As of this writing, there are a couple of things I still haven’t seen, but I can safely recommend the following to all of you looking for a quality night(or afternoon) at the theater. It’s been a banner season for fine acting and sometimes even finer directing, and that leads me to “Frost/Nixon”
It’s a simple story, really. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned one hot August night. Me, I was in college, paying ALL of my own tuition with a 40 hour a week part time job at a mall. Yes, there were malls back then. Open air malls, in point of fact. But I digress. That night, I ran from my job to the electronics store next door to hear Richard Nixon resign. I thought then, “What a schmuck”. Hey, I was 20 yrs old! In the years since, much has changed in US politics, but there is still this little twinge I get when the name Richard Nixon comes up. He may have been a liar, he may have been oblivious to the fact that all America wanted him NOT to be a liar, but there it was. He screwed up big time and thought none of us would notice. But we DID notice and he had to go, was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, and we all thought THAT WAS THAT.
But then came David Frost. He wanted to interview Nixon over the course of a few nights, and he did, and he got Richard Nixon to admit he wronged the American people. And now there’s this play, “Frost/Nixon”, by the man who wrote the screenplay for “The Queen”, one Peter Morgan, and he nails what I’d forgotten had happened some 30 years ago. His play is an account of what led to Frost’s interviews and what brought Richard Nixon, symbolically, to his knees. I find it very interesting that in the course of this breathtaking night of theater, I started to get nostalgic for the good old days in America, when the man in the White House lied to all of us but didn’t do it at the expense of thousands of lives. Indeed, there’s a moment in the play when James Reston comments about the tech crew who worked the interviews wishing they could vote for Nixon all over again if ever he chose to run once more. AND THE AUDIENCE APPLAUDED!!! We’ve actually come to a point in our history when what Nixon did is acceptable because we’ve had to endure so much worse.
But I digress. The reason you MUST see this play is the combination of Michael Sheen(he played Tony Blair in “The Queen”) as Frost, and what will surely be an award winning performance by an actor whose work I’ve loved my whole life, Mr. Frank Langella. Mr. Langella doesn’t stoop to mere impersonation, nay, he seems at times to be chanelling Nixon. He has the stoop, the growl,the scowl down pat, but there’s something more. He has the soul of Nixon at his disposal, it seems, and he manages to make the man, well damnit, almost sympathetic. Hey, based on the last 6 years we’ve been through, who wouldn’t want a president with a background in real political cojones and a knowledge of foreign affairs. Langella’s Nixon is still somewhat of a prissy sad sack, a defeated loner, an egotistical demigod-BUT-he makes us see Richard Nixon as we never thought we could again. He gives an amazing performance, and, as of this writing, Ron Howard, who will direct the movie version, has decided to ignore the studio’s suggestion of Warren Beatty as Nixon, and will be using Langella instead. How often does that happen? So, I will urge you to book now before a couple of Tony Awards makes this an impossible ticket.
While we’re at it, let me make a few more suggestions. You MUST see “Journey’s End” before it gives up the ghost. It is a heartbreaking 2 hours of theatre, but since it’s about war(WW1, in fact), you might think it’s boring. Omigod, boring it ain’t. It should easily win the Tony Award for best revival. Then there’s David Hyde Pierce in the musical “Curtains”. Pierce is well known for his 11 years as Niles Crane on “Frasier”, but he has turned into quite the musical theatre stalwart and his performance in this silly, rollicking musical should win him a well-deserved Tony as well. Who else? Well, it’s way too late to catch Julie White in “The Little Dog Laughed”, but I sense she’ll win a Best Actress award anyway. And guess what? I just saw “Legally Blonde”, and even though I felt like the oldest(and only) man in the room(it was as close as I’ll ever come, I think, to attending a Brittany Spears concert), I really really loved it. May I predict this is the show that will make unsung-but-soon-to-be-a household name actor Christian Borle a hot property. He simply steals the evening.
Speaking of the Tony awards, I thought I had all the musical nominees figured out this season until I saw the Hal Prince-helmed musical “LoveMusik” at The Biltmore. I wasn’t expecting much from a piece that was essentially telling the story of Kurt Weill’s and Lotte Lenye’s troubled relationship, using the music of Weill and the lyrics of others to propel the story. I was also wary that it was being directed by the legendary Hal Prince, whose work I must admit I’d given up on sometime after “Sweeney Todd” in 1979. His last few Broadway outings have been somewhat lackluster, and I supposed “LoveMusik” would be more of the same. Boy, was I wrong. I found this difficult, intelligent show to be one of the finest musicals I’ve seen in years. At times it feels like the landmark “Cabaret”, at times it reminds one of the original “Follies”, but it is like very little you’ve experienced before. And its stars, Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy, will take your damned breath away. They are both brilliant in their roles of Weill and Lenye. Their story is told in a series of cabaret-like vaudeville-like scenes using Weill’s own music to comment on and augment the action. Prince stages it simply and skillfully, weaving his chorus in and out to great effect. And you learn about three tortured geniuses in the course of 2 1/2 hours, the third being Bertold Brecht, beautifully played by David Pittu. It’s a musical that certainly won’t be to everyone’s liking, and consequently, there certainly won’t be any t-shirts for sale in the lobby, BUT, if you want an unexpected experience in musical theatre, please make the effort to see what I found to be the biggest surprise of the season.
And that’s it for the month of May. There’s still “Coram Boy” to come, there’s “Romeo and Juliet” in Central Park this summer, and there’s this stubborn rumor about DiCaprio doing Broadway in the Fall. I doubt that’s ever gonna happen, but I never thought Julia Roberts would do Broadway, either.