Looking ahead to the spring season on Broadway and the Tony Awards

Like so many of you, I had a lengthy hiatus from Broadway due to Covid, beginning the day after a part-time usher at “SIX” was diagnosed in March 2020 with the disease and Broadway began its shut down. In fact, I had just seen “SIX,” a day or so before that, and even had a brief conversation with an usher there, so I was a little nervous. However, unlike so many others, I did not return in the fall. Having a project to finish in Chicago, I did not get back to Broadway until February 9, when I went to see the current revival of one of my all-time favorites, “The Music Man.”

Front and side, at the Winter Garden Theater, I had a great time. I was particularly taken with Benjamin Payjak, playing Winthrop Paroo. When Benjamin sang his verse in the “The Wells Fargo Wagon” number, it was so wonderful that I teared up, as I did again at the end of the show when he did a stunning solo turn. The  youngest actor to win a Tony was 10- year-old Frankie Michaels, in 1966, for his supporting role in Mame. Benjamin is about that age and I wonder if he’ll get a shot at the award. He does have a lot of solid competition in TMM in the Best Featured Actor/Musical category, most particularly from Schuler Hensley and Jefferson Mayes, both extremely talented regulars, worthy of recognition.

Now  that I am happily back on Broadway, I am looking ahead to what is still to open this season.

At the gate is “Plaza Suite” with Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, with the talented star couple playing multiple roles in this Neil Simon classic. I am a fan of both Matthew and Sarah and I am rooting for the show’s success. The only thing I wonder, in terms of SJP, is if they’re going to keep the line where one of her characters, a sad and bedraggled middle-aged woman, tells her cheating husband that she’s going to go home and eat ice cream. It is difficult to envision the stylish and svelte Sarah ever doing such a thing, so beyond some savvy acting from SJP, I’m hoping for a costuming and make-up transformational coup here.

Additionally on cue are stellar revivals of “Macbeth,” Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize winning “How I Learned to Drive” with its original cast, Richard Greenberg’s 2003 Tony Award Best Play “Take Me Out” about a gay player in the homophobic world of baseball and David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” concerning the wages of capitalism writ small in the lives of three petty thieves. Also returning is the late Ntozake Shange‘s poetic drama “for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf.”

Beyond countless revivals of Macbeth, I had the privilege of seeing the original productions of the other four plays. A performer in the original “for colored girls…,” who I already knew from off-off-Broadway, Trazanza Beverly, won the Best Featured Actress/Play Tony for 1976, the first African American to prevail in that category. I have never forgotten her powerful performance, culminating with a heart-breaking monologue describing the murder of two young children by their father in the presence of their mother. A major theme of “for colored girls,” like that of “How I Learned to Drive” is the still painful and timely issue of the abuse of women and children.

A number of promising new plays are coming in including “Strange Loop,” “Birthday Candles” and “The Minutes.” There’s also a musical version of “The Little Prince” on the horizon. First published in 1943, “The Little Prince” was originally a French novella aimed at children that became a best-seller all over the world. Filled with profound aphorisms and wonderful illustrations, the hazy plot has proven difficult to lift successfully from the printed page. (I was not a fan of the movie with Bob Fosse as “The Snake.”) I look forward to seeing what they do with it here in an extravagant international production that promises to combine “theatrical stagecraft with aerial artistry.”

I am also optimistic about the wonderful Beanie Feldstein in the first Broadway revival of “Funny Girl.” I’m hoping this talented young actress pulls off playing Fanny Brice as well as she did roles in several notable movies, as well as in her moving portrayal of Monica Lewinsky in “Impeachment” on FX.  As for me, Beanie had me at Minnie Fay, her role in the hit 2017 Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!” In addition, this “Funny Girl” has a revised book by Harvey Fierstein, which also bodes well for the production. (By the way, Harvey’s memoir “I Was Better Last Night,” was just released. My copy is in the mail, and I am eager to read it.).

With all these shows coming in, I have great hope for the Tony run-up in the spring.

It’s good to be back.

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