Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Broadway Bounces Higher, Digs Deeper These Days
Exit flying chandeliers and helicopters?
Reenter old-fashioned New York talent?
I have no problem telling you what a fan I am of Phantom (saw it 5 times with different friends); of Les Mis and Miss Saigon. But its's great to see the Broadway musical stage back in the hands of a new generation of top-flight American composers and writers.
The Great White White Way nearly lost its way as the last century came to an abysmal end. Then came Mel Brooks with The Producers to prove that musical comedy can work miracles at the box office. And others followed.
Best of all, there's a new show full of laughs, melody, glamour and intrigue that I actually like more than The Producers or Hairspray: It's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The sassy jazzy songs by inventive David Yazbek (The Full Monty) are highly engaging. A taut book by Jeffrey Lane keeps on delivering yet more surprising plot twists from start to final curtain. Even the older-fashioned sets look like stage sets. How glamorous. Could low-tech be making a comeback?
On a deeper level, compser-lyricist Adam Guettel, grandson of legendary Richard Rodgers, in collaboration with librettist Craig Lucas has delivered a great musical and a great work of art: The Light in the Piazza. Interestingly, Guettel has his own voice; neither a tunesmith like his grandfather nor a follower of the more abstract school of Sondheim. He seems drawn more seriously to a quasi-operatic feel and sweep, and he tells a touching story with probing fidelity, avoiding gimmicks and show-off lyrics.
Piazza is not for everybody; my brother, who watched it on tv, was "somewhat disappointed." Go if you wish to be moved by the tale of a woman and her mentally problematic daughter traveling through Italy --- when romance unexpectedly challenges and complicates an innocent holiday.
Off-Broadway has been rocking, too. See the wickeldy satiric long-running blast, Forbidden Broadway. And don't miss Altar Boyz, a near-perfect 90-minute musical, infectiously scored in a modern pop-rock sort of style. This rousing "revival" left me singing the big city's praises: Yes, New York, this is why we come here ... Yes, at your best, nobody does it like you do!