By Jim Farmer
Photo: Joan Marcus/Production still from “Head Over Heels.”
Traveling to New York to see a Broadway production (or two) is, for many, a huge part of the holidays. The new season is up and running, and it’s a strong one, with a number of LGBT-themed shows and some star wattage as well. Here are quick takes of some current shows.
I missed the remount of “Angels in America” on Broadway earlier this year as well as the all-star “The Boys in the Band,” but there was no way in gay hell I was going to miss “Torch Song.” Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” was a landmark on Broadway, winning multiple Tonys and later adapted into a film. The legendary playwright has trimmed 40 minutes for this new staging. Michael Urie steps into Fierstein’s shoes as Arnold Beckoff, a drag queen looking for love in New York. The first act is erratic, sagging when the drama finds Arnold visiting a farmhouse with his current boyfriend as well as his ex. The drama finds surer footing in Act II when a knockout Mercedes Ruehl enters the picture as Arnold’s overbearing mother. Urie and Ruehl going head to head makes for dynamite theater.
The Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street, torchsongbroadway.com
“Head Over Heels”
Even counting “Torch Song,” this might be the gayest show on Broadway. Inspired by Sir Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia” and conceived by “Avenue Q’s” Jeff Whitty, it takes place in a kingdom with a duke, a prophecy, daughters and various same-sex couplings. The musical features transgender performer Peppermint, of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” fame, who plays an oracle. At heart, it’s basically a jukebox musical, using the Go-Gos as its source. Its plot can be a little nonsensical at times but when the score is this bouncy, why quibble? The cast digs into the material with aplomb. Expect some local theaters to jump on this – soon. Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street, headoverheelsthemusical.com
This off-Broadway play is headlined by stage veteran (and Emmy winner) Stockard Channing as Kristin Miller; an activist turned historian who begins to rue some moments from her past. “Hannibal’s” Hugh Dancy, in a dual role, plays both her sons. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play could use some tightening and refinement. Some of its supporting characters feels retro, such a wisecracking gay friend, but the opportunity to see Channing onstage is not to be missed. Megalyn Echikunwoke is also wonderful as a soap star girlfriend.
Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street (closes Dec. 16.)
“The Waverly Gallery”
Along with “The Ferryman,” this is the play everyone is raving about. Elaine May stars as the owner of a tiny art gallery in Greenwich Village She has Alzheimer’s and her family, including daughter (Joan Allen) and grandson (Lucas Hedges of “Boy Erased”) are coping with it the best way they can. Penned by Academy Award winner Kenneth Lonergan, this is funny and heartbreaking. Michael Cera doesn’t add much to an underwritten role as a young artist, but the rest of the cast is splendid. May’s performance should win her a Best Actress Tony next summer.
John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, thewaverlygalleryonbroadway.com, (closes January 27.)
This new musical is an experience unlike anything you’ve seen onstage before. Directed by out Drew McOnie of “So You Think You Can Dance” fame, this is a spectacle about a giant ape and actress Ann Darrow, who meet each other on the infamous Skull Island where a movie is being filmed. This boils down, simply, to whether you’re in a mood for traditional theatre or an “experience.” Musical theater snobs will turn their heads quickly, but there’s no denying the 20-foot puppet itself is a magnificent creature – expressive and nimble. Its score and story are bony, but the set design and visuals, such as the sight of Kong scaling the Empire State Building, are technical marvels.
Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, kingkongbroadway.com.