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by Michael Portantiere

12 Great Shows You Can See While the Strike Is On

  • Valerie Fagan and Michael West in FORBIDDEN BROADWAY, photo by Carol Rosegg


    Is there a silver lining to the dark cloud of the stagehands' strike against the League of American Theatres and Producers? Well, yes. Even while disappointing thousands of folks who had their hearts set on seeing Spring Awakening, Jersey Boys, Wicked, The Lion King, and other hits, this unprecedented event is giving a huge box-office lift to some worthy shows that are still playing -- either because they're Off-Broadway productions not covered by the disputed contract, or they're among the eight Broadway shows operating under separate agreements. Here are 12 recommendations on what to see:

    Altar Boyz
    This show about the five members of a boy band singing and dancing their hearts out in their first NYC gig has been running for more than two and a half years at New World Stages, but it has never really become the monster hit it deserves to be. The only possible explanation is that it's Off-Broadway rather than on, with all the unfortunate and unwarranted stigma this still seems to carry for some theatergoers, especially tourists. But ask anyone who has seen it: Altar Boyz is one of the best shows in town. It's playing at New World Stages on 50th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, right on the fringe of the midtown theater district. P.S.: From what I hear, the current "boyz" are as cute and talented as the originals.

    Die Mommie Die!
    Charles Busch is beloved as the author/drag star of The Lady in Question, Psycho Beach Party, Red Scare on Sunset, and other Off-Broadway genre spoofs. Now he has brought his unique brand of comic genius to midtown for the first time -- that is, unless you count his Broadway hit The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, which Busch wrote but in which he did not star. Die Mommie Die! is set in Hollywood in the '60s. It's the twisted tale of Angela Arden, a has-been singer/actress who has skeletons in her closet and whose home life is weird beyond belief. The show is so funny that, after seeing it, you may require medical attention for your split slides and your busted guts. It's at New World Stages, so you can buy tickets for it when you go to see Altar Boyz.

    The Fantasticks
    Having run in Greenwich Village for more than 40 years (!!!), this exquisite musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt went north last year and is now ensconced at the Snapple Theater Center, 1627 Broadway at 50th Street. If you missed it downtown, fear not: The new production is virtually a carbon copy of the one that entranced audiences from 1960 through the millennium. Revel once again in this timeless story of young lovers and in such immortal songs as "Try to Remember," "They Were You," and "Soon It's Gonna Rain." Bonus: Earlier this year, the theater within the Snapple Center that houses The Fantasticks was named after Jerry Orbach, who created the role of El Gallo in the show 47 years ago. Now the lobby houses a photo gallery tribute to Orbach that will warm the hearts of his many fans.

    Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening
    So you can't see Spamalot, Jersey Boys, or Spring Awakening because they're dark during the strike? No problem! These shows and many others are brilliantly skewered in the latest edition of Gerard Alessandrini's evergreen Off-Broadway hit, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. (Can you believe it?) The current cast is terrific, the new material is screamingly funny -- and whereas some previous incarnations of the show played in locations far from Times Square, this one is going strong at the 47th Street Theatre, just west of Eighth Avenue.

    The Glorious Ones
    I haven't yet seen this new musical, so I can't personally vouch for it. But, as a colleague of mine succinctly stated, any show with a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical, Once on This Island) is a must-see and a must-hear. The Glorous Ones is about the joys and tribulations of a commedia dell'arte troupe. Marc Kudisch, one of the most prodigiously talented performers on the New York theater scene, heads the cast.

    Two half-sisters are in possession of a stamp collection including two particular stamps that may be worth millions. Some philatelists are highly interested in the collection, but it's not clear which if any of them can be trusted. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the sisters are at odds over who can claim rightful ownership of the stamps. Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius has a few plot holes, but it's still a gripping play, and the Manhattan Theatre Club production boasts excellent performances by Alison Pill, Katie Finneran, F. Murray Abraham, Dylan Baker, and Bobby Cannavale.

    Peter and Jerry
    Edward Albee, who is generally regarded as the greatest living American playwright, took his famous one-act "The Zoo Story" -- about a strange encounter between two men in Central Park -- and wrote a companion piece for it, titled "Homelife." Both are now being performed at the Second Stage Theatre on West 43rd Street, under the title Edward Albee's Peter and Jerry. Critics and audiences alike have been raving about the plays and the production, which stars Johanna Day, Bill Pullman, and Dallas Roberts in a truly unnerving performance as Jerry.

    As I've written before in this column, film and television star Claire Danes is wonderful as Eliza Doolittle in the George Bernard Shaw play upon which the classic musical My Fair Lady is based. Fortunately, this is a Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theater, so it's not affected by the stagehands' strike. David Grindley's direction is a bit heavy-handed, and Jefferson Mays' characterization of Henry Higgins has proven to be controversial. But, overall, the show plays beautifully -- and Danes' performance is not to be missed.

    The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular
    Yes, the nativity scene still seems a non-sequitur, and it's been somewhat Vegas-ized this year. Also, the show has a hokey new sequence about a little boy who firmly believes in Christmas even though his older brother has his doubts. But, but, but: The sets and special effects are amazing, the costumes are eye-popping, and the Rockettes have still got it goin' on! Radio City Music Hall has about 6,000 seats, and there are multiple performances of the Christmas Spectacular each day. So if the Broadway show you wanted to see has been shuttered by the strike, chances are that you can score tix to this holiday perennial if you head over to the theater at 50th Street and Sixth Avenue.

    The Ritz
    Another Roundabout production, housed in the fabled Studio 54. It's a revival of Terrence McNally's '70s farce about when happens when Gaetano Proclo, a poor sap from Cleveland, comes to NYC to hide out from the mob. Unbeknownst to him, the bathhouse in which he chooses to hide caters to an exclusively gay clientele -- and there's a whole lot going down in the sauna and the steam room. This hysterically funny fish-out-of-water comedy stars Kevin Chamberlin as Proclo and Rosie Perez in a Tony Award-worthy performance as Googie Gomez, the supremely untalented singer who headlines the bathhouse's floor show.

    The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
    It was recently announced that this funny, charming, and intimate Broadway musical about kids competing to be named the best speller in their district will close in January after a run of nearly three years. Performances are continuing throughout the strike because the show is under a separate contract at the Circle in the Square, and I'm glad to hear that it has been selling out over the past few days. (This is probably due largely to the fact that the theater is located in the same building as the monster hit Wicked, which has been temporarily shuttered by the strike.) Check it out!

    A spoof of the execrable 1980 flick and of early '80s pop culture in general, this hilarious musical with a book by Douglas Carter Beane has audiences rolling in the aisles at the Helen Hayes Theater. (Well, I didn't actually see that happen when I attended, but I did notice some people laughing so hard that they nearly fell out of their seats.) As the romantic leads, adorable Kerry Butler and hunky Cheyenne Jackson are so fantastic that they somehow prevent supporting players Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa from stealing the entire show. Pounce now!

    Published on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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