Anyone who has dealt with a headstrong, aging parent on the cusp or, or sliding deeper into, dementia will feel for the women named simply A, B, and C in the magnificent revival of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” now on Broadway. A, a wealthy widow, is 92 claiming to be 91. She spends her time sparring with B, her caretaker, and wallowing in memories. C is from the lawyer’s office who has arrived to try to make sense of A’s finances, which she neglects but will not relinquish.
With Albee’s trademark incisiveness, A dominates the prickly banter and is maddeningly inconsistent, but she’s paying everyone. Like many in her position, she is both charming and vicious. B has learned to negotiate the ups and downs, while C is frustrated. At the midpoint in the play, however, everything shifts and we are suddenly in a different reality. A is lying in bed, having had a stroke. Yet here are A, B, and C again. This time, though, they are the same woman, examining her life from different ages — her 90s, her 50s, her 20s. C doesn’t want to become B. B lives in fear of becoming A, and A is preparing to die.
Four new plays focus on complex female characters
If this sounds morbid or confusing, it is anything but. As it dawns on the audience what’s going on in the latter half, it provokes a rueful awareness of the transitory nature of life and recalls Emily’s question in “Our Town:” “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” Albee’s play makes no judgments. Rather, it examines the illusory nature of what we call reality — at every time of life. Albee is often wry and crackling in his language, and demonstrates there is something affirming in just making it through life.
Glenda Jackson leads the cast as A with a dynamic performance that is unforgettable. She has an intensity of focus that is galvanizing. She perfectly plays a woman who is hanging on to what power she has and has finally reached a stage to be perfectly honest about her life. Laurie Metcalf as B turns in yet another fully developed role that is based in the script yet imbued with originality. Particularly in the first half, she plays the layers of protection and frustration with absolute precision and more than a little perfect comedy. Alison Pill as C is exceptional, as well. On some level, C is the most fragile of the three. Young in her career in the first half and young in life in the second, she is most vulnerable as she comes to terms with the likelihood that her youthful dreams will not become her mid- and later-life realities.
Joe Mantello’s flawless direction keeps the audience engaged, mind and heart, through every moment. A.E. Housman called death “the road all runners come.” Albee reminds us that the running is all.
Applying any kind of serious critical analysis to “Frozen” is, in a word, pointless. It’s a Disney show, and that means lavish, funny, heartfelt, and everything one associates with that brand. So, if you’ve decided to go — and more importantly, even if you’ve paid an exorbitant amount for tickets on the secondary market — it will be completely worth it.
One thing that’s always true with Disney: they know how to tell a story. The stage version of the 2013 animated movie has a few changes and there are new songs, but it remains completely recognizable. Songs like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “For the First Time in Forever” are right where you’ll expect them. And, the go-to belter ballad for the tween and teen set, “Let It Go,” ends the first act with knock-your-socks off theatrical magic, which no one does better than Disney. The trick of translating animated characters to the stage, notably Sven the reindeer, is creative and original, and new numbers like “Hygge” (from the Danish word for “cozy”) are endearing.
The company under the direction of Michael Grandage and with choreography by Rob Ashford is outstanding. Greg Hildreth is hilarious as Olaf the snowman. Jelani Alladin is wonderful as Kristoff, and John Riddle is the perfect bad guy, Hans. Caissie Levy as Elsa is sensational and brings down the house with “Let It Go” even as an ice palace rises around her. The real treat of the evening, though, is Patti Murin as Anna, Elsa’s sister. Murin is a born comedienne, with a great voice and infectious exuberance that enlivens every scene she’s in. The hardworking ensemble pulls out all the stops to bring the world of the show to life.
For this critic, though, the most exciting part of the evening was watching how the kids in the audience (all well-behaved, by the way), many of whom were likely at their first Broadway show, were so delighted. One can only hope it’s the first night of a lifetime of joyful theatergoing.
“Carousel,” on the other hand, is a musical that is decidedly for adults. With its darker themes of domestic violence, criminality, and desperation, though written more than 70 years ago, it still resonates today. It is a musical that isn’t afraid of its darkness and was one of the first to use the score to provide insight into characters. The tale of carnival barker Billy Bigelow and his tempestuous relationship with Julie has real high stakes. The characters struggle with prejudice and poverty, even as Julie’s friend Carrie Pipperidge and her husband, the ambitious Enoch Snow, rise into what we today call the one percent.
For all of this, it is also a beautiful musical, with a classic score and much of the story told through dance. The new Broadway production at the Imperial Theatre is bold and breathtaking, beautifully directed by Jack O’Brien and choreographed by Justin Peck. Together they have created a truly heavenly revival.
Peck, in particular, deserves high praise for the staging of the opening number, the second act ballet, and the integration of dance into many of the scenes. The choreography underscores the action, giving it appropriate levels of emotion, even passion, and there are delightful quotes of Agnes de Mille’s choreography from the original 1945 production.
Jessie Mueller is Julie Jordan, and her wonderful voice is in top form. Renée Fleming plays Nettie Fowler, which isn’t much of a part, but Fleming gets to sing “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and her performance is simply thrilling. Lindsay Mendez as Carrie has a clear voice and a lovely comic take on the role. Alexander Gemignani as Enoch Snow sounds wonderful and does some of the heavy lifting with an often unsympathetic character. Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow is the center of the show. At times angry, sometimes softer and loving, he is a complicated, troubled man. He is no good for Julie, but their powerful sexual attraction propels the conflict and the tragedy. Henry tears your heart out with “Soliloquy,” which ends the first act, and his too-late realization of how he might have lived a better life is deeply moving.
This is not a perfect show. Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t like the tragic ending of “Liliom,” the play on which “Carousel” is based. The upbeat ending seems a little forced, given what has gone before, but ultimately that’s a small quibble in a deeply moving show that now has this superlative revival.
There’s a real gem of a revival from the Wheelhouse Theater Company through this weekend only, and it’s definitely worth a trip. “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s 1970 play is as gripping, immediate, and relevant as it was nearly 50 years ago. Written in response to the cultural chaos unleashed by the nation’s hapless Vietnam misadventure, it’s a crazed, contemporary echo of Penelope’s story from “The Odyssey,” but is just as suited to Donald Trump’s America. Vonnegut’s absurdist tale is a satiric and jaundiced view of aggressive masculinity, guns, war, corrupt and antiquated morals, and abusive treatment of women.
As directed by Jeff Wise, the dark comedy is both playful and affecting. Harold Ryan is home from his own odyssey. His wife, Penelope, has had him declared dead and is about to marry Dr. Norbert Woodly, a pacifist and violin player. A battle, of sorts, ensues. Wanda June, by the way, is a girl who was killed by an ice cream truck and visits the action from Heaven, her name appearing on a cake bought for a celebration. The epic battle between Harold and Norbert is really a conflict between the intellectual and elemental — a fight to see which is man’s dominant nature.
The fact that decades later the play seems so immediate should provide a grim hint. Jason O’Connell as Harold is both terrifying and pathetic. Matt Harrington as Norbert is excellent, as is Kate Maccluggage as Penelope, a natural comic with an electric presence. The company also includes Craig Wesley Divino, Finn Faulconer, Kareem Luca, and Charlotte Wise as Wanda June. Don’t miss this last-minute chance to see a rarely produced piece.
THREE TALL WOMEN | John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St. | Through Jun. 24: Tue, Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $59-$169 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | One hr., 45 mins., no intermission
FROZEN | St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St. | Tue.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $79-$212.50 at ticketmaster.com or 800-653-8000 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission
CAROUSEL | Imperial Theatre,249 W. 45th St. | Through Sep. 2: Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed., Fri.-Sat 8 at p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $59-$169 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | Two hrs., 35 mins., with intermission
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WANDA JUNE | Gene Frankel Theatre, 24 Bond St. at Lafayette St. | Through Jun. 2: Apr. 26-28 at 7 p.m.; Apr. 28 at 2 p.m. | $25-$55 at brownpaper
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