I’m in today’s Wall Street Journal, this week with a report on my recent visits to three long-running Broadway musicals, The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, and Movin’ Out. I was curious to see how they’d look and sound after such long runs–especially in the summer, when Broadway shows are typically hit by a plague of cast changes and substitute performers. The results, not surprisingly, were mixed.
The Lion King looked best:
One reason why it’s so solid after all these years is that Julie Taymor’s puppet-driven staging doesn’t require world-class acting to make its effect. It’s less a traditional musical than a pageant, and at its best it’s a transportingly beautiful one. The catch is that none of the current principals are especially good singers, meaning that many of the solo numbers fall flat. This underlines the only other weakness of “The Lion King,” which is that it is two shows, not one. The bold stage pictures and thrilling African-style choral numbers that make it so powerfully original sit uneasily alongside the juvenile fart jokes and insipid Elton John-Tim Rice ballads that make it so painfully Disneyesque. Even at its most cartoonish, “The Lion King” is worth seeing–very much so–but the producers should think about bringing in some new blood….
Mamma Mia! is also in great shape, if you can stand the show:
Broadway debutante Jenny Fellner and Broadway veteran Dee Hoty, the stars of the current cast, are terrific (Ms. Fellner charmed my socks off), and the rest of the company backs them up with improbable enthusiasm. Whether that’s enough to put a smile on your face depends on your tolerance for camped-up dance routines set to artificially flavored bubblegum rock. Mine, I learned, is low.
I had similar problems with Movin’ Out:
“Movin’ Out,” the Billy Joel-Twyla Tharp all-dance “musical” (the only performers who sing are the members of the onstage band), also benefits from the energetic dancing of its excellent ensemble, which includes several members of the original cast, most notably Ashley Tuttle, an American Ballet Theatre ballerina who is delightful in the nice-girl role. I was warned in advance that I’d be seeing the usual summertime miscellany of subs and alternates, but whoever they were, they hoofed their hearts out.
The band, alas, has clearly performed Mr. Joel’s greatest hits several hundred times too many and is now on automatic pilot–competent but robotic. As for the choreography, it looks like every other kids-at-the-gym dance that Ms. Tharp has choreographed over the past three decades, and the vestigial plot, in which three New Jersey boys go off to Vietnam and learn about life’s cruelty, merely serves to make the proceedings more pretentious….
No link. For further theater-related opinionizing (including playgoing advice for visiting Republicans and their families), you can (A) buy today’s Journal or (B) subscribe to the online edition by going here. Both options are excellent.