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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews



  Colin Donnell and Sutton Foster in Anything Goes/ Ph: Joan Marcus

The 2010-2011 season was Broadway’s best ever, at least in terms of revenue. Grosses approached $1.1 billion as attendance shot up by over 5 percent – thanks in part, perhaps, to an unforeseen superpower exhibited by Spider-Man (the nail-biter beta version). Such was the $70 million debacle’s ability to generate headlines throughout its unprecedented seven-and-a-hal-month preview period, the nation’s eyes remained firmly fixated on the Great White Way.
But how great was that Way this year, really? How many of the 40-odd shows that opened will be remembered vividly a half century from now, or even a decade? Will the scabrous Book of Mormon somehow hold its own against, say, Bye, Bye Birdie (the hit musical of 1961)? One shudders to imagine the high-school version – though perhaps a bowdlerization might also downplay the script’s rampant racism. (Mormonism and its absurdist precepts seem fair game for satire; not so the desperate plight of war-ravaged, AIDS-plagued Uganda.)
Far more attention-worthy, and scandalously short lived, was The Scottsboro Boys, a final collaboration between John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. This faux-minstrel show approached an egregious miscarriage of justice with an acid pen dipped in withering irony. David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People also seems well poised to stand the test of time, given that the poor – and the class inequalities that attend them – we shall always have with us.
Other successes cleaved, for the most part, to the category of light entertainment, e.g., Kneehigh Theatre’s meta-amusing Brief Encounter, and Mark Rylance’s star turn as an insufferable fool in the revival of David Hirson's La Bete (so much more engrossing than the three-hour drunken bragfest that constituted Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem).
Overall, it was a great season for revivals and reworkings, what with a resplendently intelligent Lily Rabe playing Portia in The Merchant of Venice; John Lequizamo mining his lifelong obsessions for yet more autobiographical gold in Ghetto Klown; Sutton Foster giving us a softer, sexier Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes; Nina Arianda putting the moxie back in moll with Born Yesterday; and Joe Mantello lending renewed urgency to Larry Kramer’s witty –and, sadly, topical as ever – 1985 AIDS drama The Normal Heart.
Will Stephen Adly Giurgis’ presumably unprintable title The Motherf**ker with the Hat – politely truncated to “Mother” for the Tonys – still pack a shock in 2061? Odds are, no; its tale of romantic turmoil seems pretty run-of-the-mill even for today. For staying power, popular money’s on War Horse. It’s sentimental to the point of mawkishness, true, but so movingly staged, it's best to pack a hanky.
Off-Broadway also percolated with noteworthy endeavors this season. Standouts included New York Theatre Workshop’s sleek The Little Foxes, the playful Three Pianos, and an enchanting gloss on J. M. Barrie, Peter and the Starcatcher. Despite big-budget competition from such standard-issue Broadway musicals as Priscilla Queen of the Desert, How to Succeed…, Catch Me if You Can and Sister Act, Primary Stages achieved a surprise succes d’estime – and a coveted Drama Desk nomination – with their beatbox-inflected subway musical In Transit. Signature’s searing revival of Angels in America far outshone Tony Kushner’s latest, a needlessly verbose (the title is a dead giveaway) tract titled The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. Olympia Dukakis revalidated late Tennessee Williams in The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, and Red Bull rendered a wicked Witch of Edmonton.
Each of these productions warranted a longer run at a larger arena. If you were lucky enough to be among the small, discerning audiences enjoying these works in a relatively intimate setting early on, consider yourself privileged. All in all, it was a very good year, for small-scale shows geared to theatre cognoscenti.
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