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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  LATEST NEW YORK NEWS


By David Lefkowitz
Published May 18 2007

  Laura Bell Bundy

It can be misleading to look for trends in current Broadway shows, since the machinations that bring productions to the Great White Way are so varied, the only thing that truly links the coinciding of most midtown shows is coincidence. That said, the desire to find themes in apparent randomness is catnip to a critic, and even if elements shared by the works aren't the result of a trend, they can still, perhaps, reflect something interesting bubbling in the culture.

For whatever reason, the latter half of this recently concluded Broadway season has offered a number of female characters who defiantly buck the expectations of their gender in society. Maybe it's a backlash to female types on display during the first half of the season: the whores and ingénues of Les Miz, the ideal nanny and neglected wife in Mary Poppins, the bitchy-dykey agent in The Little Dog Laughed, the repressed college prof in The Vertical Hour , the clueless teen girls led to ruin in Spring Awakening, the daydreaming sprite turned sexpot in the Passionella sequence of The Apple Tree. And don't even get me started on the chicks in Losing Louie.

But things started to turn in February with the arrival of Prelude to a Kiss a satisfying revival of Craig Lucas' greatest hit. At first, Rita (Annie Parisse) is a goofy, good-looking urban neurotic, falling cutely in love and ditzily into nuptials. But then comes the titular kiss with a dying old man, and Rita's soul takes on his spirit. She is even physicalized differently, with a heaviness to her limbs and a gruffness in her throat. Her new husband (Alan Tucyk) feels lost because what looks like and appears to be the winsome woman he just married is now masculine in every other aspect. Overnight, his Mary Tyler Moore morphed into Rosie O'Donnell.

Speaking of brassy types: yes, the Debra Monk character in Curtains is a ballsy broad of the old school, but she is the show-within-the-show's de facto producer, and a murderess, which counts for something. And Lotte Lenya (Donna Murphy), in the dreary LoveMusik, may start out as the tramp with a heart of gold, but by musical's end we've come to know her more as a pragmatist with a backbone of steel. She does her best to play the hausfrau role for Kurt Weill, but monogamy suits neither, and the siren call of the stage envelopes both.

Certainly Grace O'Malley(Stephanie J. Block) , the Pirate Queen, is the most directly subversive personage in regard to traditional women's roles. Once her father sees that she's every bit the sailor as the rest of his crew, and will settle for nothing less, he dubs her his successor, and she proves the strongest, canniest foe of the English. Not that Grace isn't trapped by gender roles of the time; in deference to her father, she marries a jerk from a warring Irish clan just to keep the peace, but that's pretty much her sole concession to tradition. If she uses her feminine wiles, it's to get the best of her enemies at swordplay. If she sits down for a tete-a-tete with Queen Elizabeth, it's to redress the wrongs done to her people. All that, plus she balances a baby, a boyfriend and a boat.

For a more old-fashioned girly-girl, look no further than Elle( Laura Bell Bundy) in Legally Blonde, a sorority kewpie whose existence hinges on knowing which nail polish goes with which handbag. But, of course, beneath the couture lies a whip-smart memory and the kind of grit that not only propels her through the dreaded L-SATs and into law school but also into knowing how to pull all her advantages together to win big. By using her looks and money and contacts and smarts,<


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