After Midnight takes the audience back to an evening at the Cotton Club in the 1920s and 30s with a musical review that will “knock your socks off.” When I was researching Broadway shows, deciding which tickets to buy, it was a review by Jesse Green written just after the show opened last November that convinced me. Green talked about the 16 musicians handpicked by Wynton Marsalis to play Duke Ellington arrangements that had never been published and had to be transcribed. My husband is a huge Ellington fan, and I wanted him to hear that music as it must have sounded when it was new. I myself am not a connoisseur but I loved it all – the big-band sound, the jazz, the Cab Calloway style scat, the tap dancing, the sexy sexy blues – the flawless flow and embrace of it all.
Imagine that a young and struggling out of work gay actor named Alex (played by the amazing Michael Urie) is hired to be the solitary shop keeper of all the stores in the painstakingly reproduced New England mall that is the basement of Barbara Streisand’s California mansion.
Alex recounts his lonely solitary days wandering, marveling at, dusting and maintaining Barbara’s collections. And very occasionally, she drops down for a frozen yogurt or to play at being a customer.Warm and revealing encounters ensue and Urie gives us those nuanced conversations. Alex longs for a true friendship – to be invited upstairs. Urie’s one man performance is laced with irony and his timing is impeccable. In his capable hands, Buyer & Cellar is funny (some laugh out loud moments) and sweet, and a little sad in a wistful kind of way.
Pippin (played by Matthew James Thomas) is a prince and an innocent, yearning to spend the capital of his charmed life accomplishing something of heft and value. In his search for a worthy goal with meaning, he ricochets from one possibility to the next but nothing sticks. The play is more spectacle than story, wildly energetic with dancing, stunts and amazing acrobatics. The set has all the trappings of the big top, a sort of Cirque de Broadway with a cool and stunning ringmaster played by the sinewy Patina Miller. I found the characters to be mostly run of the mill Broadway with two notable exceptions: Pippin’s father, Charles (aka Charlemagne) played by Terrance Mann who managed to be original, often sweetly funny, and memorable in all of his scenes, and Pippin’s world-wise and cunning granny, Berthe (Annie Potts) who in one big song and a single scene gives her grandson Pippin such profound and loving advice it brought tears to my eyes and made me want to spend the entire evening listening just to her.
Of the four plays we selected this trip, Pippin was the least satisfying. Pippin the play, like Pippin the character, never finds an ending with enough substance to make the quest worthwhile.
I know, I know, I’m aware there were critics that called Beautiful “boomer bait” and unforgivably derivative of “Jersey Boys” and “Motown.” Well, I admit it, I’m a boomer, and I’ve never seen “Jersey Boys” or “Motown,” But now that I know there are two more “jukebox” musicals out there that I might like even half as much as I liked Beautiful – let me tell you, I’ll be seeing them. For me, everything in “Beautiful” was flawless. Jessie Mueller’s iridescent and gentle portrayal of Carol King was the standout centerpiece. The music, every number, was an unqualified treat. There wasn’t one false note from beginning to end, and when the evening was over, I wanted to do it all again.