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Get Out of Town, 2013: The Bests and Worsts of the Year

The bests…

Alex Timbers Is God
This was a great year for us. Want to know why? Because Alex Timbers was everywhere. Uptown, downtown, across the country, seriously, the man was putting up shows everywhere we looked. Between directing our favorite musical of the year, Here Lies Love, at the Public Theater, and adapting and directing the gloriously fun Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Delacorte all summer, Timbers somehow found time to present a concept for a new Muppets musical. Then, in the fall, he jetted off to San Diego to mount a production of the Jeff Buckley/Romeo & Juliet musical The Last Goodbye — which we loved — before hurrying back to NYC to get himself ready to direct Rocky: Das Musical on Broadway in 2014. Basically the only place we didn’t see Alex Timbers this year was in our bed. Probably because Timbers hasn’t stopped to sleep at least twelve months. Which is probably fine. Because Gods don’t need sleep like we mere mortals do. Still. We’re keeping a spot open in our beds. Just in case he’s looking for a new place to perform. Or something.

OK, the Tonys Rocked
Remember like three years ago when everyone used to bitch about the Tonys going down the tubes, and poor ratings, and the Death of Theater because IGNORANT AMERICA DOES NOT CARE WAH WAH WAH. Fuck that noise, because Broadway’s biggest night was bloody great this year. Neil Patrick Harris owned. The production numbers were brilliant. (“You can bounce a quarter off he ass of Billy Porter.” Still not over it, Lin.) The winners were diverse and deserving and best of all, the proceedings felt genuinely celebratory. The secret? Broadway stopped trying to put on a show aimed at converting the masses and started having its own fun, in-joke-y, beautiful party. The result? The ratings were up. And the people who love theater got it, and the people who didn’t wanted to. Mission accomplished.

Norbert Leo Butz at 54 Below
The best thing that happened on the Great White Way this year didn’t actually happen on the Great White Way. It happened in a night club in a basement below Broadway and it was Norbert Leo Butz’s cabaret “Girls, Girls, Girls.” In an evening exploring female archetypes — mythological, Jungian — through popular music as an attempt to better understand the women in his life, Norbert Leo Butz also managed to blow the fucking roof off 54 Below. Which is a hell of a feat, dude, because that shit is like… 20 floors up. That’s how big, how badass, how truly amazing this show was. One song in and we were losing our minds with joy. By the end of the night we’d basically become a puddle that needed to be scraped up off the floor. We would quite literally commit several heinous crimes for the opportunity to see Norbert perform “Girls, Girls, Girls,” again. We just hope we won’t have to.

Fun Home
There are no intelligent, sensitive new musicals for grownups, the world lamented! No probs, said Jeanine Tesori, who composed one of the best shows we’ve seen in years with Fun Home, the story of one woman’s attempt at sussing out her family history. Brimming with incredible performances and sweet/sensitive/sad songs, this show gave us hope that complex, thoughtful musicals can have a healthy life in New York. Are we mildly concerned that a Broadway transfer seems far away for this show, despite glowing reviews and multiple extensions? We are. Oh, we are. But for the moment, we’re happy to have this show on its feet, regardless of the neighborhood.

Laura Benanti Triumphant
Say what you want about The Sound of Music and Ms. Underwood, without her, we’d never have gotten to see Baroness Benanti Von Schrader — a performance so fucking good it basically erased all the badness around it. And good for Benanti. After several cancelled TV shows, and a rough patch in her personal life, ending 2013 on such a high note must have felt really fucking good. The fact that she stole the Tony Awards with her number about cancelled television shows probably didn’t hurt either. So let’s drink to the end of 2013 being the beginning of Laura Benanti’s epic rise to stardom. Or at least get her beautiful, amazing, hilarious ass back in a musical, stat.

Derek Klena Ascendant
With the assumption of Jeremy Jordan and Aaron Tveit into Hollywood heaven and Gavin Creel busy conquering a new continent, the need for a new Broadway hottie was dire, friends. Not only did Derek Klena show up just in time, he did upon arrival what all marquee hotties must: a tenure in Wicked as Fiyero, King of the Hotties and stylish sporter of suspenders and high-waisted pants. With that out of the way, he’s headed onward to The Bridges of Madison County and the miraculous universe of Tony eligibility — clearly where he belongs. Coincidentally, we’re gunning for several new categories this year — Cutest Dimples, and Best Intense-Yet-Knowingly Sparkly Eyes.

RSO Fest at 54 Below
In the past four years We’ve seen about a jillion new musical theater concerts. And much though we love having our fingers on the pulse of what’s about to happen on Broadway, these concerts can be a real slog. Composers are forced to present their songs completely devoid of context, and it’s all too easy for the music to suffer for the format. Which is exactly why RSO Fest at 54 Below was so great. Instead of forcing composer Ryan Scott Oliver to select a handful of songs from each of his different projects and smoosh them into one night, the venue presented three his musicals, top to bottom, each as their own individual concert. The material actually made sense, you guys! But at the end of the day, the best part of it all was that we got a real taste of RSO’s skill, not just with a few isolated minutes of music here or there, but with a whole story. With a whole musical. And guess what? He’s pretty good at writing those things! Maybe more composers should get a shot at showing us what they’ve got in a real show. In the meantime, we’re buying tickets to see Jasper in Deadland — one of the shows in RSO Fest — at the Prospect Theater this spring. Can’t wait.

Mark Rylance in Shakespeare
We’re not even going to pretend we didn’t know Mark Rylance was a genius before this year. His performance in Jerusalem is basically the best thing we’ve ever seen. Well. That is, until we saw him interpret Shakespeare. Rylance breathed a whole  new life into The Bard’s text, finding colloquial rhythms and space for breathing, and stuttering, and laughing, and being human in a way that we’ve never had the privilege to experience before. We’re obsessed. Not in the least because his Olivia in Twelfth Night was one of the most amazing female performances we’ve witnessed, and, well, Rylance is a man. This is the kind of shit we’re going to tell our grandchildren about over and over until we die and they’re going to hate us but we don’t even give two fucks because holy shit, how lucky were we to have witnessed this master at work?

Julie Taymor Returns Like a Mofo
Did you honestly think that Julie Taymor was going to sulk away from Spider-Man in defeat, never to return to the New York stage again? LOL, no. That’s what Julie said as she created the most memorable Shakespeare production of the season at Theater for a New Audience. Her Midsummer Night’s Dream was a wonder of flowing fabric, neon projections, and glittering costumes — old-fashioned theater magic that seems wildly removed from the computerized spectacle of Spider-Man. And who could resist her best innovation in this production: A chorus of children tasked with playing faeries, animals, party guests, woodland creatures, and even the woods itself. All this in a season that was so Shakespeare-crammed that it took a small miracle to stand out amidst the throng. But standing out and making a splash? We wouldn’t have expected less from our girl Julie.

The Jammer
Proving that simpler is sometimes a whole lot better, this little production at Atlantic Theater had us swooning this year. A tale of love and roller derby in 1950s New York, we fell hard for this show’s reliance on cardboard cutouts, Kay Starr songs, and a hilariously weird, expletive-laden performance by Jeanine Serralles. When it comes to a good night of theater, there’s not much more that a girl needs.

The worsts…

You know what’s awesome? That some people had the courage, smarts, funding, and wherewithal to make a TV show about the inner-workings of Broadway. Because that is some interesting shit, and we have known this since we were old enough to drop the cassette tape edition of the Sunday in the Park With George cast recording into a Walkman and hit play. You know what’s not? That the show totally, utterly sucked. Plagued by impossible writing, a meandering plot, and the most empty-eyed leading lady this side of Kate Levering, Smash was a bitter disappointment to those of us who no only love Broadway, but know in our heart of hearts that this is an intelligent medium filled with intelligent people who do intelligent work. The hell if we could find any of that on Smash outside of Angelica Huston, and anything worth caring about beyond the color of Ivy Lynn’s wrap dress of the week.

The Endless Vilification of Critics and Criticism Blah Blah Blah
Anyone who says anything bad about Broadway is bad! This is the refrain we here over and over again from fans, and industry insiders alike. Ben Brantley is evil. Journalists who expose important stories are out to take down Broadway. Our thought? That’s bullshit. Everyone’s work, whether you are an artist or a janitor, is open to subjective external assessment, and we all risk losing our jobs if we screw up, or if our bosses do. That’s life, baby. The rules aren’t different for a Broadway show. We hate this notion that critics are somehow ruining Broadway, that it should exist in this perfect bubble of positive sentiment, partly because that’s just creepy George Orwell talk. But also, this panders to this very dangerous idea that American theater, and Broadway, is some kind of rarefied endangered species. That we all need to whisper in hushed tones, lest it shatter to bits. Uh, no. Broadway is alive and well, and it produces enough great work each year that it can withstand people calling out its flaws. Our final opinion about opinions? Shout ’em out, good or bad. Because the thing that will help Broadway most is people talking about Broadway.

The Random, Left-Field Musical
Soul Doctor? The Janis Joplin live show? What the hell is this? When did Broadway become invaded by a) things we’ve never heard of, and b) things that have no obvious shot at commercial or critical viability? Have all of the Broadway producers in the world had their bodies taken over by Oompa Loompas? Because seriously, we are no experts at the business of Broadway — we adore things that fail all the time — but it seems like you would be smarter to light a huge pile of money on fire in the middle of 45th street than to invest real cash in something like Soul Doctor. But the thing that disturbs us most isn’t that these shows exist on Broadway. It’s that other shows don’t. Here Lies Love? Fun Home? We can’t find the cash to make either of these musicals happen in a Broadway house, but the Janis Joplin impersonation show can come right on in? Makes perfect sense… if you are certifiable crazy person. We hope 2014 is better than the last half of 2013, and that Broadway can eventually put its money where its brain is.  Speaking of which…

Entrance Applause for Dead People 
Rampant standing ovations at shows of even shitty quality are par for the course these days. And that’s bad enough. But this year, we reached a new low. Broadway forced me to experience something even worse — a show being stopped because the audience was giving entrance applause to a dead person. Okay. In fairness, they were giving an unknown actress entrance applause for her ability to look somewhat like a person who is already dead. But really, we all know that applause wasn’t for the actress (she hadn’t done anything yet!). It was for Bessie Smith. Or Odetta. Or Nina Simone. Really, people? Seriously? You’re so excited to be here that the mere appearance of someone dressed up like a dead person you admire is enough to send you into paroxysms of joy and applause and hooting and hollering? THIS IS NOT REAL. AND THEY HAVEN’T EARNED YOUR APPLAUSE YET. AND ALSO, THIS ISN’T REAL. OMG, hate. If Broadway ever does this to me again, I quit. At least Bernadette Peters earned her entrance applause. And speaking of dead people on Broadway…

The Sugarcoating of Shlomo Carlebach
You know what would be an awesome idea? Let’s write a musical about a famous man who is both long dead and the subject of a very long list of accusations of molestation and pedophilia and sexual abuse of many stripes dating all the way back to the 1960s. Except, let’s totally ignore the fact that hundreds of women have publicly accused him of heinous things and just make him seem like a really nice dude. And when the media asks questions, instead of acknowledging that we chose to wholesale ignore a huge portion of this man’s legacy, let’s just say that all those women were wrong. He’s not a playa he just liked to hug a lot. Doesn’t that sound marvelous? The creatives and producers behind Soul Doctor thought so. They brought that revisionist shit straight to Broadway and four months later, we’re still grossed out. And not even because the show was bad. But because it told Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach’s story in bad faith, and disrespected all the women he hurt. So notch another win on the patriarchy’s bedpost, I guess. But we’re out.

Matilda is Late for Class 
We spent basically the entirety of 2012 — and even a small portion of 2011 — hearing about Matilda‘s brilliance from across the pond. We even flew all the way over to the West End to see (and love) it for ourselves that winter. Then, everyone on this side of the ocean spent the second half of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 talking about how everyone was just fighting to be an also-ran beside the genius of Matilda in the race for Tony Awards. And then Matilda opened, and… nothing. Sure, it got great reviews. But by and large, no one seemed to give a fuck. Not the press, not our readers, not even us (we didn’t even bother to go see it again in NYC). By the time the Tonys jizzed all over Kinky Boots, our suspicions were confirmed — people just didn’t care about Matilda anymore. You could say that was due to the show’s Britishness and dark sense of humor. But really, we just think everyone had Matilda fatigue. In the year and a half between when the show’s West End and Broadway openings, everyone just got sick and tired of waiting. New York is a fast-paced, fickle place — Broadway, even more so — and that last six months of waiting seemed to do us all in. Which sucks, because the show is great. Here’s to hoping the next time producers move a West End smash across the pond they’ll leave less time for hype and give us more time to see, and love, the show for ourselves.

Jekyll and Hyde
There are two flavors of Frank Wildhorn: boring and craptacular. That’s it. There’s no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the Frank Wildhorn universe, because the man is just measured on a different scale. And as you may have guessed from the name of this website, we’re fond of craptacularity. Which is why we have a soft spot for Frank Wildhorn. And nothing of Wildhorn’s is more craptacular than Jekyll and Hyde. Well. Nothing has more POTENTIAL to be craptacular than Jekyll and Hyde. Which is why the deathly boringness –seriously, I spent a calculable percentage of the second act engrossed in… the ceiling — of this year’s revival was such a letdown. Don’t waste my time, Broadway. If you’re going to have Constantine Maroulis toss his hair around and screlt his face off, make it the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Turn that shit up to eleven. Or a thousand. And stop taking Frank Wildhorn so seriously. Camp is way more fun.

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