News Column

Broadway musicals revolve around youth empowerment

May 26, 2013

YellowBrix

May 26--NEW YORK -- The biggest and best Broadway musicals of the 2012-13 season share a theme: In each, a young person is empowered against the odds.

Two of the hit shows are revivals; and the other two, originals.

All are worth seeing now, during a visit to New York -- or later, on a likely tour stop in Columbus.

In the wake of our annual trip to the Big Apple, Arts & Life offers snapshots:

Kinky Boots

Focus: A reluctant young heir to a failing British shoe factory saves his employees and transforms his life by discovering a niche market -- drag queens -- that requires embracing diversity.

Memorable moments: The musical manages to soar whenever Billy Porter struts his/her stuff as Lola -- especially during the knockout numbers Sex Is in the Heel, The Land of Lola and What a Woman Wants.

Creators: composer-lyricist Cyndi Lauper; author Harvey Fierstein (La Cage aux Folles, Newsies); choreographer-director Jerry Mitchell (Legally Blonde, Hairspray)

Pros: Lauper's terrific debut as a Broadway songwriter jet-propels the show, which reaches joyful heights in the first- and second-act finales, Everybody Say Yeah and Raise You Up/Just Be.

Cons: The central heterosexual role (played nicely but predictably by Stark Sands) and its romantic subplot are bland. Worse, Fierstein doesn't rein in his weakness for schmaltz and penchant for the recycling of once-outrageous humor.

Details: Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St. (Telecharge: 1-800-432-7250, www.telecharge.com)

Matilda: The Musical

Focus: The Royal Shakespeare Company adapted Roald Dahl's dark children's fantasy about a book-loving little girl who discovers hidden powers she can use against her tyrannical school principal and ignorant, dismissive parents.

Memorable moments: Bertie Carvel dominates the stage in his too-few appearances (The Hammer, The Smell of Rebellion) as the monstrous Miss Trunchbull, a cartoonish villain who contrasts sharply with Lauren Ward as Matilda's sympathetic but powerless teacher.

Creators: author Dennis Kelly, composer-lyricist Tim Minchin, director Matthew Warchus

Pros: The brilliant staging, surreal stage design, cartoonish costumes and stylized performances bring to life Dahl at his disturbing best.

Cons: Darker in its drama and more intellectual than some families might expect, the two-act show might be too much for the very young.

Details: Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St. (Telecharge)

Pippin

Focus: The first Broadway revival of the Bob Fosse-staged 1972 hit, this is a play-within-a-play about a young prince on a quest for love, meaning and adventure in medieval Europe.

Memorable moments: All the circus feats are fun and thrilling, but Andrea Martin wows the crowd by giving advice to young Pippin (Matthew James Thomas) while performing aerial feats upside down.

Creators: composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked); author Roger O. Hirson; director Diane Paulus (Hair)

Pros: The Cirque du Soleil-style costumes and circus acrobatics add energy and a persuasive framework to the American Repertory Theater revival, while choreographer Chet Walker faithfully evokes Fosse's stylish and sensual dance steps.

Cons: The weak coming-of-age story is eclipsed by the showmanship.

Details: Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. (Telecharge)

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella

Focus: The creators of Oklahoma! Carousel and South Pacific fashioned this musical for television in 1957 from the classic French fairy tale. This is its first Broadway staging.

Memorable moments: The almost-miraculous onstage transformation of Ella (Laura Osnes) from chambermaid to beautifully gowned princess, of a pumpkin into her coach and of poor Marie (Victoria Clark) into a regal Fairy Godmother are just a few of the deft stage tricks that bring the magical tale to life.

Creators: composer Richard Rodgers; author-lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II; new author Douglas Carter Beane (Sister Act, Xanadu); director Mark Brokaw

Pros: The lovely staging, lavish design and tuneful songs make this a family-oriented treat, especially for young audiences.

Cons: Even with Beane's updated book affirming female empowerment and adding Camelot-style hints of an idealistic prince (Santino Fontana) leading a monarchy to democracy, this old- fashioned musical still seems dated and simplistic.

Details: Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street (Telecharge)

mgrossberg@dispatch.com

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(c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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