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by Michael Portantiere

Thank You Very Much

  • TKTS; photo by Michael Portantiere

    These are challenging times, what with the economy imploding, the continuation of war and strife throughout the world, the persistence of homophobia, and all too many cases of incompetent and/or evil people somehow attaining positions of power and making life miserable for the rest of us. But on the other hand...Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States! And, looking back over the theatrical year that will soon come to a close, I realized that there are quite a things for which we can and should express our gratitude this Thanksgiving season. Here's my own personal list, in no particular order:

    The New TKTS Booth
    There were many delays in construction of the Theatre Development Fund's new half-price tickets booth in Duffy Square, and grumbling about this subject became a favorite pastime of many in the theater industry. But the completed structure is so magnificent that the bitching ended the moment it was unveiled in all its glory. People love the sweeping lines of the booth itself, the expansion of the number of ticket windows, and the considerable enlargement of the traffic island on which the structure is located. But most of all they love the brilliant "bleacher" section with its gorgeous, red-lit platform steps that afford breathtaking views of Times Square, not to mention amazing photo ops. The place became a major tourist attraction the moment it opened -- and I've seen several theater people hanging out there as well. Bravo!

    Lincoln Center Theater
    Three of New York City's major non-profit theaters -- the Roundabout, the Public, and MTC -- are maddeningly inconsistent in terms of the quality of their shows. No so Lincoln Center Theater. The company's taste in terms of what to present is nearly impeccable, and even on the relatively rare occasions when they choose a property that's less than great, the production they give it is almost guaranteed to be stellar. I doubt that any other theater in the world can boast of a track record as good as LCT's, so we should be careful not to take the company for granted.

    Michael Weller
    Not the most famous contemporary American playwright, but absolutely one of the most talented. Weller scored this season with two wildly different but equally gripping plays that opened Off-Broadway within a few weeks of each other: Beast, a surrealistic piece about two grievously wounded Iraqi war veterans, which ran at New York Theatre Workshop; and the hyper-realistic domestic drama Fifty Words, in which Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Marvel tore up the stage at the Lucille Lortel. Such talent and versatility is to be treasured.

    Musicals Tonight!
    Mel Miller's invaluable enterprise keeps on resuscitating musicals of yesteryear in semi-staged concert productions - and we're talking really obscure items like Irma la Douce and Tovarich, both of which I was lucky enough to see and hear performed by MT at its new home, the McGinn/Cazale Theater on Broadway at 76th Street. Of course, the properties themselves aren't all gems; though Irma was delicious, Tovarich wasn't. But Miller and his house director, Thomas Sabella-Mills, often enlist such talented casts that even the semi-clinkers are well worth attending if only for historical purposes.

    Raúl Esparza
    Speaking of talent and versatility: Since his New York debut as Riff Raff in the 2000 revival of The Rocky Horror Show at Circle in the Square, Esparza has proven that he can play just about any type of role brilliantly: Jon in tick, tick...BOOM!, the M.C. in Cabaret, Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart, Robert in Company, and so on. In D.C., he was great as George in Sunday in the Park with George and Charley Kringas in Merrily We Roll Along. Right now, he's displaying his usual brilliance as Charlie Fox in the superb Broadway revival of David Mamet's Speed the Plow. Long may he act!

    John Gallagher, Jr.
    When I first saw him onstage, in Fuddy Meers at MTC, I was blown away by Gallagher's performance -- not least because he was literally a kid at the time. In 2006, he amazed us twice, breaking our hearts in the Pulitzer-Prize winning play Rabbit Hole and winning a well-deserved Tony Award for his unforgettable characterization of the tormented Moritz Stiefel in Spring Awakening. Now an old man of 24, Gallagher is starring in Farragut North for the Atlantic Theater Company, the excellent Off-Broadway venue where Spring Awakening was first produced. Here's looking forward to a long lifetime of beautiful work from this amazing actor.

    Sierra Boggess and James Barbour
    It's an awesome responsibility to play the central role in a big Broadway musical. Imagine how much more challenging the task when the show is a bitter disappointment -- whether due to poor direction and design, as in the case of The Little Mermaid, or a lackluster score, as in the case of A Tale of Two Cities. Some sort of special medal should be given to the super-talented Sierra Boggess and James Barbour for carrying these problematic shows on their shoulders.

    Daniel Radcliffe
    As the young star of one of the most popular movie franchises in history, Radcliffe might have chosen to make what is for all intents and purposes his stage debut in a light comedy or some other non-taxing vehicle. Instead, he chose the extremely difficult, draining role of Alan Strang in a revival of Peter Shaffer's Equus that opened in London and is now playing on Broadway (in case you hadn't heard). Radcliffe is very impressive in the role, and his achievement is all the more laudable since the efforts of his co-star (Richard Griffiths) and director (Thea Sharrock) are not up to snuff. Here's hoping that, in his next theatrical project, he will get the kind of high-level work from his colleagues that he richly deserves.

    Carole Shelley
    Since her Broadway debut in The Odd Couple in 1965, Shelley has given a string of wonderful performances in such shows as Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, The Elephant Man, Noises Off, Cabaret, and Wicked. Now, she's the perfect embodiment of the grandmother in Billy Elliot. The lady is a cancer survivor, which makes her presence onstage all the more precious. Thank you, Ms. Shelley.

    August: Osage County
    When was the last time you saw a three-and-a-half-hour play -- not a musical, mind you, but a play! -- that kept you riveted for its entire length? Tracy Letts' August: Osage County is so well written that it would probably have become a huge hit even if it wasn't so terrifically acted and directed. If you haven't already visited the epically dysfunctional Weston clan of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, you are urged to do so at your earliest opportunity.

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jason Robert Brown
    Miranda is an amazing newcomer among musical theater composer/lyricists (In the Heights), while Brown is already an honored veteran (Songs for a New World, Parade, The Last Five Years, and now 13). Both have been honored for their efforts, but I'm not sure that the full extent of their genius has yet been recognized. Here's hoping they've got dozens more shows in them

    Forbidden Broadway
    This Off-Broadway institution has been running off and on (but mostly on) for 26 years. Just before the opening of the most recent edition, it was announced that the New York production will close indefinitely in January. Ben Brantley ended his rave New York Times review of the show with a sentiment to which anyone who has ever seen Gerard Alessandrini's hilarious creation can relate: What will we ever do without it? I don't have the answer to that question, so all I can do is suggest is another visit before the final curtain.

    Published on Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    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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