Forget those fuzzy little hamsters that run on batteries, scamper all over your living room,( OK, they don’t leave little gifties in the corners) and will be forgotten within a week-left to collect dust bunnies under the coffee table. Or dust hamsties. Whatever. Forget yet another cute little IPhone cover made of frozen lucite from Scandinavian walrus hide decorated with eskimo obscenities from Sharper Image or Brookstone. Forget the nut-of-the-month club, the sea salt-of-the-month club, the tropical bird-of-the-month club or the GOP drink coaster-of-the-month club. This year, for the holidays, give something swell that won’t mold, moult, mollify, coddle, curdle or yodel. Give tickets to some live theater and make someone smile for 2-plus hours and throw in a twenty for a hat with the logo on it so they really won’t forget. No, seriously-get your loved ones some great seats to some great shows. Ahead-some suggestions.
It’s only been 11 years since the original Broadway production of the musical “Ragtime” closed on Broadway, but the show is back in a sparkling new, pared down production that doesn’t skimp on the talent, only on the exact replica Model-T Fords that marked the original. This “Ragtime” is as good, if not better, than the original, thanks to the expertise of the director, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who has simplified the physical production, but has strengthened the story line and the emotions by doing away with the gew-gaws. Those who don’t know “Ragtime”, from the iconic novel by E.L. Doctorow, or from the soul-stirring film made by Milos Forman about 26 years ago; it is a trio of stories that intertwine and overlap and feature a cast of characters made up of a privileged family in New Rochelle, an immigrant family from Eastern Europe and a black ragtime pianist and his lady love. The excellent adaptation is by the equally excellent Terrence McNally, who won a Tony for Best Book back then. The terrific score is by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and now, as then, it is a sumptuous, graceful rendering of period Americana that soars and dazzles. And this cast is just stunning. For a nice change, the cast isn’t overpopulated with million dollar movie marquee dazzlers or television icons, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but instead we have hard-working actors and actresses who have paid their dues in regional theater and on the road, and who now step up to the plate and make this amazing musical their own. Special mention must be made of Quentin Earl Darrington as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., who practically erases all memory of Brian Stokes Mitchell in the original, and who makes this musical his personal property whenever he’s on stage. This production MUST be experienced, and what better way to do it than for the holidays.
Off-Broadway, there’s a nifty little comedy by one of our favorite authors, Theresa Rebeck, titled “The Understudy”, a sort-of tongue-in-cheek, semi-bloody comedy of manners about people who don’t always have any manners-actors. Two such actors and a stage manager spar during an understudy rehearsal for a Kafka play starring a giant film actor who’s agreed to slum it on Broadway for a limited run. Think Bruce Willis, but any other multi-million dollar per picture actor will substitute. Anyway, in the course of this “rehearsal”, truths are uncovered, entaglements are untangled, careers are skewered and for the audience, the funnybones are alternately tickled and goosed. The actors here are superb- there’s Justin Kirk, a fine stage actor who’s been away from the stage for too long and who’s a regular on “Weeds”, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, making his NYC stage debut, but who you might recognize from “Saved By The Bell”, “NYPD Blue” and “Raising The Bar”, and Julie White, a Tony Award winner a few years back for “The Little Dog Laughed”. All are terrific. Here’s the perfect gift for the budding performer in your life.
And while you’re at it, here are some other fine performances on NY stages you might want to consider while they’re here. The supremely gifted Michael Cerveris and the wondrous Laura Benanti share the stage at the Lyceum Theatre in the sad/funny “In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play”, a sort of Ibsen play turned inside out and sent through the spin cycle. If you can get tickets, there’s the ensemble cast of the 9 play Horton Foote “Orphans’ Home Cycle” at the Signature Theatre Company. Over on E. 59th Street, there’s a nifty little Alan Ayckbourn play called “My Wonderful Day” which features an astonishing performance by an actress by the name of Ayesha Antoine, who, at the age of 28 is flabergasting audiences playing an 8 year old girl. Matthew Broderick and J. Smith Cameron steal the whole shebang in Kenny Lonergan’s lovely “The Starry Messenger” on Theatre Row for a limited time. And finally, there are Henry Stram and Cristin Milioti in a stage adaptation of Carson McCullers’ “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” over on East 4th Street at the New York Theatre Workshop. If you’re familiar with the iconic film from 1967, you may be somewhat disapointed in what Rebecca Gilman has done in condensing this beautiful work into tiny blackout scenes with no connective tissue, but this cast will NOT disapoint you, led by the lovely Milioti and the terrific Stram. They’re giving two of the best performances in town.
To all of you-the best of holidays and a propserous new year. Now, go see some THEATRE!!!!