What To See in NYC: Winter 2017:  Broadway and Beyond

By Cris Franco

Beyond the totally sold-out blockbusters (Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Hello, Dolly!) Broadway boasts many superior productions this holiday season. Here’s an overview of some of these new theatrical offerings currently running — and why this Christmas you might want to gift yourself a pair of seats to these outstanding shows!  

SPAMILTON is the rollicking parody of the mega-hit Hamilton. Playing just a few blocks away from Hamilton at Miriam Colon’s Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, Spamilton is performed by an inspired company of five singer-actor-comic-impressionists that includes the ravishing and golden-throated Nicole Vanessa Ortiz and the dashingly daft Dan Rosalez as Lin Manuel Miranda/Hamilton.

Set to the actual music of the Grammy and multi Tony Award-winning juggernaut, the comedy’s author, Gerard Alessandrini, has crafted a searing send-up of all things Hamilton, including its creator with the opening lyrics: “This blue-collar, shinning beacon, Puerto Rican got a lot farther by being a lot smarter, by stretching rhymes farther, by being a trend starter …“ From then on Spamilton’s fast-rapping satirists propose that gay-themed musicals are dead via the song “Straight is Back” (sung to Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back”), that the score’s jammed lyrics make it hard to follow Hamilton’s plot via “What Did You Miss?” (“What Did I Miss?”) and how all Hollywood is clamoring to be “In the Film When It Happens” (“Room Where It Happened”). Many performances provide Spanish subtitles and this hilarious mini-juggernaut is now touring in Chicago and Los Angeles.

This is a non-stop, side-splitting, musical revue that has audiences begging for an intermission just to catch your breath. Luckily there is an intermission and (unlike the real Hamilton) there are still good seats available at: http://spamilton.com

Photo: Joan Marcus

A BRONX TALE proves that all immigrant families have a compelling “tale” behind their American journey. Whether you’re from L.A.’s Boyle Heights or NYC’s Belmont Avenue (“Little Italy”), A Bronx Tale answers the question: Will an ambitious poor boy follow the path of good (his hard-working father) or evil (the underworld figure who’s taken the lad under his gun-toting wing)? The answer is a complex and layered musical dramedy set to Alan Menkin and Glenn Slater’s infectious doo-wop score.

Based on Chazz Palminteri’s autobiographical 1993 film, A Bronx Tale follows a young man’s quest for success as it gracefully sings and dances through a coming-of-age saga. Set in a vibrant, mid-century, Italian-American neighborhood, the musical is inhabited by colorful Runyonesque characters like “JoJo the Whale” and “Frankie Coffeecake” all supporting the sharp leading players: Bobby Conte Thorton (“Calogero” the mobster) and Nick Cordero (“Sonny” our hero). This story mixes murder, love, violence and family values in Broadway’s most surprising musical.

With thrilling choreography by Colombian-born, Olivier Award-winning, Sergio Trujillo, it pulls no punches as its characters seek happiness and redemption in a gritty complex world where bad people can do good things. It would be a very bad thing to miss A Bronx Tale. https://abronxtalethemusical.com

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, one of the season’s few new dramas, is an import from London’s West End, where it garnered raves for its daringly raw stage adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 psycho-sci-fi classic film.

Set in a dystopian future (is there any other kind?) the nine-member, all-male ensemble is often shirtless, just as the story is stripped to its bare essence. And it’s also performed on a naked stage. This production foregoes realism, choosing to make this Clockwork tick by primal sexual tension, razor-sharp physical acting and muscular fight choreography that makes West Side Story’s rumble look like the dad/daughter dance at a quinceañera. The homoerotic cast is headed by the spellbinding star, Jonno Davies as “Alex deLarge” who leads his drugged-out gang of “droogs” on a horrific killing spree through London. He’s captured and is rehabilitated via a controversial psychological conditioning technique.

Like the book and film, the play’s dialogue is a fractured futuristic patois incorporating Russian, English, and Cockney rhyming slang. Characters named “F-Me Pumps”, “Pedofil” and “Rich Bitch” help A Clockwork Orange take stage sex and violence to a new level with spine-tingling results. Performed with the classical bloody flair of Macbeth or Richard III it’s a powerful new drama for the adventurous theater-goer. www.aclockworkorangeplay.com

Eva Noblezada
Photo: Mattew Murphy

MISS SAIGON is more than Broadway’s best new revival.  Starring filipina, Eva Noblezada, as “Kim,” this updated production has subtly tweaked a lyric here and a line of dialogue there, resulting in a riveting retelling of the Madame Butterfly story.  

Set in Viet Nam during the war, this is a tragic account of a doomed romance between an American G.I. (“Chris”) forced to abandon his love, Kim. Co-starring the brilliant Jon Jon Briones as “Engineer,” the wheeler-dealer looking to make a fast buck in his war-torn world, this Miss Saigon is played with an emotional abandon that keeps the audience breathless.

Everyone is spot on in this torrid tale of love amid a world of hate. Noblezada’s voice soars to emotional heights rarely heard on any stage. While the deliciously sardonic Mr. Briones keeps the melodrama in check as he schools us on the harsh realities of life in a war zone. The evocative designs all create the downtrodden and sleazy world that Kim and Chris want to escape. But life has different plans for the star-crossed lovers. I was deeply moved by this new Miss Saigon. It possesses all the stirring passion of the original, but with a smarter, more informed POV. Hurry, Miss Saigon, closes on 18 January 2018. <https://www.miss-saigon.com>

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is Broadway’s longest running musical, and for good reason. Fast approaching its 30th birthday, this granddaddy of all shows could well be the grandest production in theater history by virtue of its impeccable direction by Hal Prince, glorious costume and set designs by the unparalleled Maria Bjornson, and melodic Andrew Lloyd Webber score.

Phantom remains a peak theatrical experience. But even more exciting than the enormous falling chandelier is the marvelous performance of Rodney Ingram. Born in Sayulita, México, he’s the leading man currently playing the role of the lovelorn “Raoul” who’s fallen for “Christine” just as she has fallen under the Phantom’s mysterious spell.

Having studied vocal performance in both Paris and Manhattan, this vibrant lyric baritone brings a continental sophistication and commanding persona to one of light opera’s most underrated roles — a part often overshadowed by the Phantom and Christine’s mysterious affair. Ingram seizes every moment of stage time to impress us with his dynamic interpretation and lyrical prowess. Mr. Ingram is a shining example of the constant influx of fresh talent that keeps Broadway’s Phantom glimmering as brightly as it did on its opening night in 1988. Whereas newer shows have scaled-down casts and diminished orchestras, Phantom retains its full ensemble and a gilded lush opulence. Dust off that chandelier, boys — Phantom is here to stay. <http://www.thephantomoftheopera.com>

SEASTREAK CRUISES isn’t a Broadway play – but this topnotch sightseeing service puts on quite a show. I’m including Seastreak Cruises in this “Things to see in NYC” review because on those sad days when there’s no matinee, I highly recommend you get out in the fresh air and book one of their many year-round sightseeing daytrips to local places of interest.

Departing from the Manhattan docks you travel via the open waterways in one of their spacious, high-speed catamarans. It will comfortably ferry you to any of their unforgettable day-long getaways to the tranquil beaches of Martha’s Vineyard, the historic lighthouses of pristine Nantucket, Sandy Hook Beach’s National Recreational Center or a scenic boat tour around “The City’s” iconic monuments and dazzling skyscrapers. These daytime excursions allow travelers to tailor their on-board experience: purchase food and drink or bring your own epicurean feast — take in the vistas from the open-air top deck or below in the enclosed viewing salons. (And should your travel companion rather watch sports while you take in the breathtaking vistas, Seastreak provides large-screen viewing areas throughout the boat.)

The whole experience is first class all the way. I treated my eyes to their Fall Foliage daytrip to Cold Spring, New York, where I witnessed the magic of the changing seasons in this quaint forested artists’ community. Coming up soon is Seastreak’s special New Years Eve cruise through New York Harbor. You’ll watch the fireworks over Lady Liberty while enjoying a scrumptious dinner then dancing the night away.  For info on all of Seastreak’s outstanding mini-getways: <https://seastreak.com>

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