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Three exciting, character-rich shows that score

Ben Schnetzer and Johanna Day in Richard Bean’s “The Nap” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through November 11.
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With the smooth precision of a perfectly aimed snooker ball dropping into a corner pocket, Richard Bean’s adroit and amusing comedy “The Nap” has dropped on Broadway. The British import from the author who brought us “One Man, Two Guvnors” is as breezy and undemanding as it is charming and often hilarious.

Set in Sheffield, England, on the eve of a world snooker tournament, the play tells the story of Dylan Spokes who has escaped his working class, go-nowhere background by becoming an internationally ranked player of this billiards-like game. As Dylan readies for the tournament, he finds himself surrounded by a cast of outrageous people — his eager father, his transgender backer, the “integrity officers” who show up out of nowhere and threaten his ability to play, and his blowsy, alcoholic mom and her crazy boyfriend. All of them want a piece of Dylan, and he’s asked to throw a round of the tournament so some unknown billionaire gamblers can make a killing.

Surrounding a more or less normal guy with extreme characters and thrusting him into insane situations is a classic comic trope. The many twists and turns will leave you laughing and remind you of Martin McDonagh in a lighter mode. What makes the whole crazy contraption tick is that there really is something believable at stake for Dylan, which gives all the insane plotting and surprise reveals a level of relatable humanity, right down to his love interests.

There is plenty of verbal and physical comedy and a real-time snooker match at the end featuring a ringer from the game’s real world, Ahmed Aly Elsayed. The whole affair is directed with a fast-moving flair by Daniel Sullivan, and the superlative cast is just about perfect. Ben Schnetzer, as the hapless snooker star at the center of the action, is a master of both the understated take and the mounting hysteria as events cascade around him. Johanna Day is wonderful as his drunk, opportunistic mother, and Thomas Jay Ryan as her down-at-heels beau is suitably seedy. Max Gordon Moore is very funny as Dylan’s manager with a changing wardrobe of brilliantly colored suits, and John Ellison Conlee is Dylan’s doting dad. Bhavesh Patel and Heather Lind are quite good as the integrity officers ostensibly trying to preserve snooker’s purity. In a good bit at the end, Lind almost stops the internationally televised snooker event cold. And a wonderful reason to see this show is the wonderful work of Alexandra Billings, a transgender actor, as Dylan’s backer Waxy Bush (you can see where the jokes are going). Given to delicious malapropisms, Waxy is much more than meets the eye, as the plot thickens.

To say more would be to give away the jokes, and that would be unfair. Like any McDonagh play or classic British comedies like “Noises Off,” the fun is always in the surprises.

It just seems wrong to call “Girl from the North Country” a jukebox musical. As a collection of Bob Dylan songs woven into a story, that’s what it is. Yet, leave any preconceptions about this type of entertainment in the lobby because this heartbreakingly beautiful musical is absolutely stunning. Rich in narrative, character, and humanity, it is a distinctly American tale in the realistic tradition of Steinbeck, Saroyan, and Odets. The spare but lyrical book is by the Irish playwright Conor McPherson. It’s a tale of a group of people struggling to make it one day at a time in a boarding house on the brink of foreclosure in Duluth, Minnesota as the winter of 1934 closes in. As in Harry Hope’s bar in “The Iceman Cometh,” each character has a plan for escape, and yet that never seems to materialize, so they settle for the best they can get.

The dozen or so main characters are types — the avuncular doctor, the con man, a one-time big shot and his sexually frustrated wife, the boarding house owner trying to hold on with a sick wife while seeking solace in the arms of a boarder. McPherson, however, has given each an original voice, and story’s emotional impact is so powerful because we recognize the prevailing archetypes.

The phenomenal cast includes such New York stalwarts as Mare Winningham, Stephen Bogardus, Marc Kudisch, David Pittu, Luba Mason, Tom Nelis, and Robert Joy, all of them performing at the peak of their talent. Under McPherson’s direction, the staging, storytelling, and carefully developed characters create a beautifully understated picture of a scary world on edge.

And then there’s the music. Audience members who know the Dylan songbook will be more familiar than I with the songs, yet each was alive with poetic imagery and singing that will take your breath away. From the precise choral work to impassioned renditions of such classics as “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Hurricane,” and “Forever Young,” the music illuminates characters and moments with pure theatricality.

The sets and costumes by Rae Smith are beautiful and appropriate, and Mark Henderson’s lighting helps us come to see that the darkness can be as compelling as the light.

This is a somber tale. There is loss, disappointment, and even death, but it is also a tale of spirit, survival, and the will to go on. So, call it a jukebox musical if you must, but it’s a welcome evolution of the genre — and the most exciting show in New York right now.

Adam Gwon’s marvelously appealing musical “Ordinary Days” is about four young people trying to make connections in big, bad, New York City. While that’s certainly a familiar story, the 17 numbers in this sung-through piece tell it with freshness and heart that are always entertaining and at times surprisingly moving. First seen at Roundabout in 2009, it’s getting a delightful revival by Keen Company on Theatre Row.

Warren is lost, looking for something to devote his life to. Deb has run away to grad school to avoid life. When Warren finds Deb’s lost thesis notes, the two form a quirky friendship in front of a Monet at the Met. Claire and Jason are trying to make a traditional relationship work and negotiating the challenges of cohabitation. There’s not much more to it than that.

Gwon’s tunes are well-crafted and tuneful. His lyrics, rich in structure, meter, and internal rhyme, reveal the characters and relationships, exposing their internal lives as they look for answers and try to make it all work.

The cast is splendid. Kyle Sherman is endearingly goofy as Warren. Whitney Bashor, excellent as Claire, has a beautiful soprano and powerfully delivers one of the most emotional songs in the piece. Marc delaCruz is funny and often wonderfully befuddled as the guy trying to figure out the girl. Sarah Lynn Marion as Deb is a knockout. With a gorgeous voice and perfect comic timing, she hits every moment perfectly.

As long as people arrive in New York, hoping for magic, this show will resonate with audiences. It’s hopeful, realistic, and true — everything you need to try to make it here.

THE NAP | Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St. | Through Nov. 11: Tue.-Wed. at 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat.- Sun. at 2 p.m. | $79-$109 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY | Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., btwn. E. Fourth St. & Astor Pl. | Through Dec. 23: Tue.-Sun. at 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. at 1:30 p.m. | $95-$120 at publictheater.org or 212 539-8500 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission

ORDINARY DAYS | Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St.| Through Nov 17: Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $75-$90 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | Ninety mins., no intermission

Updated 10:37 am, October 24, 2018
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