Well, she did it. Lea Michele opened in Funny Girl (August Wilson Theatre, open ended) on Broadway. And I did it, I saw her! Was she everything I hoped she would be? In a word, yes. In this old-fashioned musical comedy, Lea Michele is giving a galvanizing, bring-down-the-house, old-fashioned musical comedy star performance, the likes of which I have rarely seen in my four plus decades of Broadway theatergoing. The experience of watching her hold the audience in the palm of her hand reminded me of the great star turns I have seen from the likes of Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, and Christine Ebersole. I kept thinking to myself, “Am I really enjoying Lea Michele in Funny Girl more than I enjoyed Idina Menzel in Wicked?” The answer to this question is also yes. My one caveat, though, is that it’s not a fair comparison. Think of Lea’s big Funny Girl showstopper, “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” She stands downstage in the center belting out her most comfortable money notes to show the orchestra who’s got bigger lungs. We hold our breath in the audience marveling at how long and loud she can go as the band plays faster and faster whipping our heartbeats into a frenzied climax and we crumble into our seats gasping for air so we can hoot and holler as the lights go down on Act One. Compare that to Idina’s big barn burner in Act One of Wicked, “Defying Gravity.” She has to riff some crazy high notes while suspended high in the air and painted green. It’s literally a death-defying act and it’s all she can do to survive the moment. This is by design, as modern mega musicals, since the ‘80s onslaught of Phantom and Les Miz, are intentionally star proof. The producers want you to see your friends wearing the T-shirt and buying tickets in a town near you to see the show with the iconic logo. It’s not about the human being on stage. The old musicals were different, Funny Girl just wasn’t the same without Barbra Streisand, or even in the case of something like Hello, Dolly!, where a parade of stars rotated into the role, you went to see the individual talent. And individual talent is what Lea Michele is delivering in Funny Girl. Run, don’t walk.
Run even faster to catch A Strange Loop (Lyceum Theatre, closes January 15) before the Pulitzer Prize winner shutters for good. It’s a sad comment on the stupidity of mainstream audiences that the best new musical since (at least) Hamilton could only find an audience for nine months. On the other hand, we should be grateful this “big, Black, and queer-ass” musical made it to Broadway at all.
You have even less time to catch the smash hit revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods (St. James Theatre, closes January 8). Sara Bareilles is long gone, but Tony winner Stephanie J. Block gives the performance of her career as the Baker’s Wife, oozing heart and brains and the most exciting vocals ever heard in the role. Different actors have stepped in and out of the other parts, but a special treat is to catch Broadway favorite Ann Harada as Jack’s Mother, giving the most impressive belter repurposing of a character voice role since Patti LuPone in Sweeney Todd. If this whets your appetite for a deep dive into the classic fairy tale mashup musical, might I recommend my new limited series on the Broadway Podcast Network, Giants in the Sky: How Sondheim and Lapine Went Into the Woods, chronicling the making of the masterpiece through candid conversations with members of the original cast and creative team.
The Collaboration (Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, open ended) Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope are Warhol and Basquiat. What else do you need to know?
Ain’t No Mo (Belasco Theatre, previews November 9) 27-year-old Obie-winning actor/writer/wunderkind Jordan E. Cooper (Pose, The Ms. Pat Show) makes a very auspicious Broadway debut.
Between Riverside and Crazy (Helen Hayes Theatre, previews November 30) Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner finally makes it to Broadway featuring much of the original cast and Common.
Ohio State Murders (James Earl Jones Theatre, previews November 11) Adrienne Kennedy’s memory play comes to Broadway starring six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald.
Merrily We Roll Along (New York Theatre Workshop, previews November 21) Stephen Sondheim’s heartbreaking flop featuring some of his best songs is given yet another chance to make it, this time Off-Broadway starring Jonathan Groff, Lindsay Mendez and Daniel Radcliffe, directed by Sondheim expert Maria Friedman.
And if you’d rather be entertained at a table with drinks, check out all the fabulous offerings from New York City’s world-class cabarets:
- Jane Lynch & Kate Flannery: A Swingin’ Little Christmas
TV comedy legends deck the halls and blow your mind with their impressive bonus musical talents.
- Bridget Everett & The Tender Moments
The juggernaut star of HBO’s Somebody Somewhere returns to her artistic home.
- Murray Hill: A Murray Little Christmas
It just wouldn’t be the holidays without the never not enjoyable “hardest working middle-aged man in show biz” who’s only gotten more fun as he’s gotten more famous.
- Justin Vivian Bond: Oh Mary, It’s Christmas!
The downtown deity delivers the goods.
- Sandra Bernhard: Soul’d Out
She comes, she sings, she conquers. A trip to Sandyland is really the only way to end the year.
- Patti Harrison
The beguiling actor, writer, and comedian continues to conquer all.
- Nicole Henry: When I Think of Home
The Soul Train Award winning, Billboard charting jazz pop musical theater chameleon flexes her considerable musical muscle.
- Vanessa Williams
It’s worth paying any price to see this star in such an intimate environment.
- Patti LuPone: Songs from a Hat
December 20-January 8
Who do you think you are?
- Tony Yazbeck
The smooth as silk triple threat trips the light fantastic.
- John Lloyd Young: Broadway’s Jersey Boy
He’s just too good to be true.
- Jennifer Simard: Can I Get Your Number?
The hilarious standout from Company and Hello, Dolly! steps into the spotlight.
The Green Room 42
- The Fairlee Twins: The Even Better Show
Two cabaret studs are better than one!
- Leola’s Lady Lounge
The BroadwayWorld-Award winning “senior redneck lesbian” hosts her monthly LIVE talk show.
- Margaret Josephs: Marge in Charge
The Real Housewives of New Jersey yenta spills the Tre – I mean tea.
- Paige Turner: Drag Me to Christmas
December 8, 15, 22
The lovechild of Barbie and Pee-wee Herman unleashes her showbiz spitfire on the yuletide.
- Mark William: Technicolor Dreams
The golden boy with the buttery voice is back.
- Villain: DeBlanks
December 14, January 17
Hilarious murder mystery spoof meets Mad Libs, with a rotating all-star cast!
- Broadway Sessions
December 1, 15
Broadway hottest nerd Ben Cameron welcomes talent from current shows.
- Lindsey Alley: Christmas in New York
The former Mouseketeer with more talent than Britney, Christina and Justin combined.
- Kiki Ball Change: Deck the Balls
The Broadway Bimbo of NYC drags Christmas.
- Jumaane Smith
Bublé’s sideman takes center stage.
Chelsea Table & Stage
- The Boy Band Project
It’s exactly what it sounds like and it’s delicious.
- The Skivvies: Sleigh My Name
The harmonious hardbodies are here for the holidays.
- Randy Edelman
An opulent live piano show from the acclaimed film composer.
- Carole J. Bufford: Vintage Pop
They don’t make ’em like Carole J. Bufford anymore (except they did make Carole J. Bufford and thank God).
- Edmund Bagnell: Home for the Holidays
The talented twink from Well-Strung continues his successful slew of solo stints.
- SCUNGE! A Mobbed-Up Christmas Carol!: Matt Bogart, Andy Karl, Dominic Nolfi, and Dominic Scaglione, Jr.
Hey, bada bing, it’s Charles Dickens, but you know, wise guys style. Capiche?
- A Swinging Birdland Christmas: Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso, and Billy Stritch
A Nora Ephron fantasy of Christmas come-to-life.
- Marilyn Maye
December 29-January 1
She’s the Godmother of Song and you simply must kiss her ring.
Last modified: December 7, 2022