The 2013–2014 Broadway season, which the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing celebrate this month at the 68th annual Antoinette Perry “Tony” Awards, provided something for everyone’s theatrical taste. There were revivals of Shakespeare’s greatest works and modern American classics; the arrival of Hollywood’s hottest stars and the return of Broadway’s brightest talents; works based on the lives of some of the world’s most compelling figures; and musicals adapted from popular books and films.
For many of the 44 plays, musicals and special entertainments presented over the past 12 months, the idea of home—in all its permutations—was one of the strongest themes on the Great White Way. In Act One, James Lapine’s adaptation of Moss Hart’s autobiography, the young playwright escaped his unhappy Bronx habitat and found a spiritual home in the world of professional theatre. For the cross-dressers of the 1960s at the center of Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, a secluded Catskills retreat overseen by married couple George and Rita was a home-away-from-home. Adrift and homeless in a wasteland between male and female, East Germany and the United States, the angry transgendered rocker in Hedwig and the Angry Inch sought identity, acceptance and a place of her own. The middle-aged loners at the center of John Patrick Shanley’s comedy Outside Mullingar squabbled over a strip of land in rural Ireland before finding a home with each other. In First Date, two nervous urban singles also stumbled to make a real-life love connection (i.e., a home), but in a world dominated by cyber romance. On a lighter note, the singers and dancers who energized the revue After Midnight reminded theatregoers that, in the Jazz Age, Harlem’s Cotton Club was the epicenter of popular music and the house that Duke Ellington ruled.
The most beautiful home often proved to be anything but a haven for some of this season’s protagonists. The happily married gay couple at the center of Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons found their world upended when the mother of one of the men’s former partners unexpectedly turned up in their New York City apartment. Suburban homes provided peace and quiet but little comfort for the two couples battling death in Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses. Nor could the upstate hunting lodge in Sharr White’s The Snow Geese protect a troubled early-20th-century family from war, madness or poverty. The peaceful residence of a white lawyer in a small Southern town became a target for violence in Rupert Holmes’ adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. And an aging widow threatened to take extreme measures to stay in her longtime Brooklyn brownstone—much to the dismay of her grown children—in Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn.
New York itself became home this season to several of Great Britain’s preeminent actors. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen teamed up in two very different plays, as the tired tramps Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the are-they-or-aren’t-they old friends Hirst and Spooner in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall formed a triangle of friends and lovers in the revival of Pinter’s Betrayal. In his third Broadway outing, Daniel Radcliffe portrayed the title character, an Irish lad desperate for a new life in America, in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan.
A new generation of stars from across the pond made notable New York stage debuts, too. Rebecca Hall portrayed a neurotic woman who murders her husband in Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal. Ramin Karimloo reprised his West End role of Jean Valjean in the New York restaging of Les Misérables. And Chris O’Dowd bowed as the mentally challenged migrant worker Lennie (alongside fellow Broadway newbie James Franco as best pal George) in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Broadway celebrated the 450th birthday of the greatest theatrical Brit of them all—William Shakespeare—in grand style, rolling out the red carpet and providing homes for no fewer than four of his plays: Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Twelfth Night and Macbeth.
A number of prominent past Tony-winning actors, who have found success in other mediums, returned to their stage roots. Denzel Washington and Anika Noni Rose headlined the revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, about a working-class African-American Chicago family in the 1950s. Cherry Jones gave her spin on domineering Southern mother Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Roger Rees embodied an upstanding English gentleman feverishly defending his young son accused of a serious misdemeanor in Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy. Musically, Sutton Foster took on the title role of a facially disfigured young woman in Violet; Alan Cumming recreated his portrait of the Emcee in Cabaret; and Idina Menzel played a woman starting over in New York City after divorce and disappointment in If/Then.
Many of the season’s most-talked-about productions explored the lives of real people on the edge, from great entertainers to controversial politicians to sports legends. Audra McDonald channeled troubled Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Jessie Mueller portrayed a legendary singer-songwriter in Beautiful–The Carole King Musical. A Night with Janis Joplin, starring Mary Bridget Davies, bared the soul of the self-destructive rock ’n’ roll queen, while Soul Doctor examined the world of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, well-known in the folk music scene. Bryan Cranston took the oath of office and stood front and center in Robert Schenkkan’s epic drama All The Way, about the turbulent early months of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency. Eric Simonson’s Bronx Bombers, a mix of fantasy and history about baseball’s greatest franchise, resurrected a host of New York Yankees, from Babe Ruth to Yogi Berra to Derek Jeter.
Books and films inspired a number of the season’s new musicals, from Robert James Waller’s best-selling novel The Bridges of Madison County, adapted for the stage by Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman, to Disney’s animated movie Aladdin, brought to life as a theatrical spectacle. The greedy desires of a young British would-be aristocrat—played for laughs in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder—first came to light in Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, which, in turn, was made into a popular film vehicle for Alec Guinness: 1949’s Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Four screenwriters updated their résumés this season by adding Broadway librettist to their work experience. Sylvester Stallone transitioned from penning the Oscar-nominated script for Rocky the movie to co-authoring (with Tony-winning veteran Thomas Meehan) the book for Rocky the musical. John August rethought his screenplay for Big Fish, while Woody Allen crafted a Tony-nominated book for Bullets Over Broadway from his Oscar-nominated screenplay for the movie of the same name. Douglas McGrath, Allen’s co-scribe on the Bullets movie, added another string to his bow; his book for Beautiful–The Carole King Musical and Allen’s for Bullets are up for the same Tony tonight.
And finally, let’s not forget the season’s special events, including the return of Billy Crystal’s 2005 Tony-winning memoir about growing up on Long Island, 700 Sundays; the Argentine dance spectacular Forever Tango; Let It Be, a multimedia celebration of the Beatles; and Il Divo–A Musical Affair: The Greatest Songs of Broadway, starring the internationally renowned quartet of vocalists.
So, as the curtain falls on the 2013–2014 season, Broadway has once again demonstrated that, for emotionally involving and intellectually stimulating entertainment, there is no other home.
Top of the Pop Ups!
The Tony Awards Pop-Up Shop (Paramount Hotel, 235 W. 46th St.), open thru June 8, sells Tony-themed T-shirts, posters and more.
And, don’t forget, WHERE is the official publisher of the Tony program book, which will be distributed on June 8, at the 68th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall!