I continued my tradition of visiting Manhattan for the weekend prior to Christmas. None of this year’s shows inspired the same I-need-to-fly-back-to-New-York-to-see-this-show-again reaction that I had after viewing Michael C. Hall in Hedwig and the Angry Itch, but all four were strong Broadway offerings.
I started with Fun Home, the well-deserved winner of the 2015 Best Musical Tony (considering that the runner up was Something Rotten, all theater-goers owe Fun Home a debt of gratitude). I did my homework by reading Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel prior to the show, and I was surprised Michael Cerveris’s portrayal of Bruce Bechdel involved much greater vulnerability than I had interpreted from the book.
The show’s most memorable number is “Ring of Keys,” which was performed by Sydney Lucas during the Tony awards broadcast, followed by “Welcome to the Fun Home” and “Raincoat of Love.” Both of these songs feature the child actors representing Small Alison (now played by Gabriella Pizzolo), Christian (Oscar Williams), and John (Zell Steele Morrow) and include energized choreography, which serves as an adrenaline shot compared to the darker tone of the rest of the show.
The lyrics are reminiscent of Sondheim with their emphasis of describing specific events or objects with deep introspection. “Changing My Major”—in which the overly intellectual Middle Alison explains that her first sexual experience with another woman has shifted her life—is the highlight of Emily Skeggs strong performance. “Edges of the World” does not quite fulfill its role as the show’s climactic showstopper. Cerveris gives his all in signing about how their home and its constant need for repairs was never enough to suppress the homosexual desires he tries to suppress, but the song itself fails to build momentum for the last 30 minutes of the show, which is slow at times.
King Charles III has appeared on every 2015 top 10 theater list I have read, and for good reason. The premise is Queen Elizabeth has died and Charles (who, at 66 years, has set the record for longest wait for the British throne) has ascended. Playwright Mike Bartlett creates this scenario as a modern Shakespearean history play, one that follows the line of a well-intentioned but often naïve monarch being undone by the forces that surround him.
Americans who have seen The Audience will have a greater understanding of the context for Charles’ (Tim Pigott-Smith) first meeting with Prime Minister Evans (Adam James). Charles demonstrates that he will not follow some of his mother’s practices when he refuses to sign a law that would place limits on freedom of the press. This plot device in itself is worthy of its Shakespearean comparisons due to the irony of Charles’ own life-long ridicule from the relentless British press.
The events that follow involve various powers plotting and backstabbing to seize control. Among the most aggressive of Charles’ antagonists are his own sons and daughter-in-law. William (Oliver Chris) has seen a ghost of his mother telling him to seize power, Kate (Lydia Wilson) is no longer willing to be a fashion accessory for the royal family, and Harry (Richard Goulding) is conflicted between his public role as the-man-who-would-never-be-king and his romance with a woman unfit for his standing.
My hope is that King Charles III will land at Chicago Shakespeare in 2017, which will mark a perfect blend of subject matter, stage space, and audience for the play’s Chicago premier.