Here’s a how-de-do: “The Coast of Utopia,” Tom Stoppard’s triptych of heavyweight history plays about the 19th-century Russian revolutionaries who struck the match that set the modern world on fire, has become fashionable Manhattan’s must-see show. The second installment, “Shipwreck,” is now alternating in repertory with “Voyage” at Lincoln Center (“Salvage” opens Feb. 15). These plays are the inverse of light entertainment: they’re long, structurally complex and bristling with ideas. Yet the combined weekly box-office gross for “The Coast of Utopia” is right up there alongside “Jersey Boys” and “The Lion King.” As the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste–not even the good kind.
If anything I just said causes you to suspect that “The Coast of Utopia” is the theatrical equivalent of “A Brief History of Time,” that least read of best sellers, let me correct this misapprehension at once: “Voyage” and “Shipwreck” are pure theater, fueled by ideas but propelled by the combined force of high drama and resplendent language. Even if you know nothing of the historical figures on whom Mr. Stoppard’s characters are based, you’ll be pulled irresistibly into the maelstrom of their crowded lives–and riveted by the tale of how their idealism bore bitter fruit….
“Spring Awakening,” the trendiest show of the 2006-07 season, has transferred to Broadway from the Atlantic Theater, slightly revised but otherwise intact. Most of my critical colleagues shrieked with joy when it opened, but I didn’t agree with them in June and don’t after a second viewing: I still think this glammed-up rock ‘n’ roll version of Frank Wedekind’s once-shocking 1891 play about puberty in Wilhelmine Germany is all wrapping and no present….
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