Stage

Set Your Sights on Bright Lights and Summer Nights in the City

Summer in the city means sweaty subway platforms and crowded bars. It means weekend getaways and weeknight block parties. And for Broadway, it means tourists are packing the hits of the recent theatre season while the less successful shows struggle to stay open till Labor Day. It’s a great time to catch up on some of the best shows you might have missed amid all the COVID scares and commotions of life in 2022. I highly recommend Company, Hangmen, How I Learned to Drive, POTUS, Take Me Out, The Minutes, and The Music Man.

But the show that should be first on your list is A Strange Loop (Lyceum Theatre, open ended). Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, which premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 2019, has finally opened on Broadway to well-deserved rave reviews. It’s hard to overstate the significance of this captivating piece of art and entertainment, exquisitely directed by Stephen Brackett (Be More Chill, Buyer & Cellar). I so want to praise the intersectionality of this authentically rendered story of a “fat, Black, queer” person, despite knowing Jackson’s much professed disdain (via A Strange Loop as well as in the press) for the virtue signaling and performative wokeness that’s today’s norm. The fact is anyone who identifies as any of those adjectives is going to find a lot to relate to in this landmark work, which will also appeal to everyone who cares about and/or enjoys genuinely great theater.

The new lead, Jaquel Spivey (23 and making an auspicious Broadway debut), brings new layers of vulnerability and sweetness to his role and is supported by the same tight ensemble of stars who originated the show: scintillating, sinewy Antwayn Hopper (on the heels of his triumph in The Life at City Center Encores), authoritative, uproarious James Jackson, Jr., earthy yet ethereal L. Morgan Lee, savvy, slippery John-Michael Lyles, heartbreaking and hilarious John-Andrew Morrison, and vigilant, versatile Jason Veasey. This is the best new musical on Broadway, since at least Hamilton, and you don’t want to miss it.

Some other Broadway news isn’t quite as good. The much anticipated first ever Broadway revival of Funny Girl (August Wilson Theatre, open ended) has opened to mostly bad reviews. The thing is it’s just not funny, girl. Hopes were high for Beanie Feldstein, but she doesn’t come close to filling Barbra Streisand’s legendary shoes. At least we’ve broken the seal. Maybe the next actor cast as Fanny Brice will only have to live up to this.

The only new Broadway show opening in this postseason limbo is The Kite Runner (Hayes Theater, July 6-October 30), Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed, best-selling novel. This Second Stage production features The Blacklist’s Amir Arison and is directed by Giles Croft, who helmed the hit West End run of the play,

Off-Broadway is still fertile ground with new shows opening all year. Some early summer highlights include:

 

OFF-BROADWAY THEATER

Epiphany (Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, open ended)

Brian Watkins’s new play, directed by Tyne Rafaeli. The ensemble cast includes familiar faces like Marylouise Burke, Heather Burns, Jonathan Hadary, and Omar Metwally.

Corsicana (Playwrights Horizons, June 2-July 10)

Jamie Brewer (American Horror Story) and Deirdre O’Connell are featured in Will Arbery’s portrait of a woman with Down’s Syndrome in a small Texas city, directed by Sam Gold.

Just For Us (Greenwich House Theatre, June 13-July 23)

Comedian Alex Edelman reprise’s his acclaimed solo show.

Between The Lines (Second Stage, June 14-October 2)

Jodi Picoult’s young adult novel gets the musical treatment with Broadway belters Vicki Lewis and Julia Murney among the cast.

 

CABARET

The venerable Café Carlyle has at last reopened and some best bets there are:

  • Screaming(ly funny) queen Mario Cantone (June 3-4)
  • ‘80s TV icon Tony Danza (June 14-25)

The coolest room in town, Joe’s Pub, has a killer lineup featuring:

  •  Writer-performer-raconteur Justin Elizabeth Sayre hosts the tenth annual Night of a Thousand Judys with a glittering roster of stars to sing in tribute to Judy Garland’s 100th Birthday benefitting the Ali Forney Center for LGBTW+ youth (June 5)
  • Singer-songwriter Eleri Ward reprise her acclaimed A Perfect Little Death: Acoustic Sondheim (June 7)
  • Actor-troubadour Julian Fleisher flashes his musical brilliance in the latest installment of Four Seasons of Julian Fleisher (June 16)
  • Legitimate and uncanny drag legend Joey Arias celebrates the release of his No One Knows EP (June 17-18)
  • MacArthur Genius Taylor Mac makes a mark in Songs from The Bark of Millions (June 20-30)
  • Skip the hologram tour, see Kevin Smith Kirkwood in Classic Whitney – Alive! (June 23)
  • Everyone’s favorite “Intimacy Idiot” and TV writer Isaac Oliver takes us down his Pride Spiral (June 24)
  • Straddling “comedy, commentary and communion,” gifted actor-singer Joseph Keckler shakes the rafters (July 7)
  • Fabulous freak Enid Ellen is the beloved brainchild of David Mramor and singer/songwriter Greg Potter, and she is not to be missed (July 12)
  • Norma Jean Wright, formerly of Chic, Linda Clifford, and Original Weather Girl, Martha Wash sing their faces off on all the hits in First Ladies of Disco: Retro Music Box (July 21-23)

“Broadway’s Living Room” Feinstein’s/54 Below has got a ton of great stuff to see including:

  • A Chorus Line’s Tony-winning triple threat legend Donna McKechnie in Take Me to the World – The Songs Of Stephen Sondheim (June 2-4)
  • Tony-winning Dear Evan Hansen star Rachel Bay Jones bringing all her love and light to Something Beautiful (June 17-18)
  • Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell showing why he’s Broadway’s greatest leading man in Songs and Stories (June 20-25)
  • To Steve with Love: Broadway veteran Liz Callaway celebrates Sondheim with her signature sunniness and power (June 28-29)
  • Vastly under celebrated diva Emily Skinner struts her stuff in A Broad With A Broad, Broad Mind (June 30-July 2)
  • Be More Chill’s Joe Iconis convenes the latest gathering of his devoted and growing cult in Joe Iconis & Family (July 8-11)
  • Lucille Ball’s daughter and a TV and Broadway star in her own right, Lucie Arnaz, in I Got The Job! Songs From My Musical Past (July 14-17)

The Green Room 42 is the place to be to see:

  • Runaway hit Drunk Shakespeare (June 1-8)
  • Hadestown and Miss Saigon Tony nominee Eva Noblezada  (June 5)
  • Penny Dreadful and Hadestown star Reeve Carney (June 5)
  • Cabaret go-to Robbie Rozelle in his latest act, Pretty, Witty and Gay (June 11)
  • Broadway and Gossip Girl heartthrob Jason Gotay (June 19)

Birdland, “The Jazz Corner of the World,” is busting out:

  • Legitimate jazz singer with gobs of stage presence, Gabrielle Stravelli (June 7, 14, 28, July 7)
  • Charsmatic kabarettist Carole J. Bufford and opera star Stephanie Blythe honor Judy Garland’s 100th Birthday (June 10)
  • Genre defying singer-songwriter celebrates the release of his album Liam Forde Great to Be Here (June 13)

Downstairs at the West Bank Café, the forever tribute to the late great lady of the stage, the Laurie Beechman Theatre is booked up with great shows:

  • Downtown darling Daphne Always brings her magic midtown (June 9)
  • Cabaret master Jeff Harnar pays tribute to the big guy in I Know Things Now: My Life in Sondheim’s Words (June 15, 22, 29)

The East Village relives its glory days at the intimate Pangea, particularly:

  • Francophile favorite Gay Marshall gives a live taste of her sensational Leonard Cohen album, Back on Boogie Street (June 4)
  • Broadway and Greenwich Village veteran Zora Rasmussen reminds us what made her a star (June 19)

Speaking of the Village, you should come by Alan Cumming’s louche lounge Club Cumming for fun, laughs, good times every night of the week, but especially:

  • Mondays at 8pm for my show, Cast Offs with Ben Rimalower & Daniel Nolen. We’ve got exciting guest stars booked all summer!

On the West Side, City Winery welcomes the cream of the crop:

  • International superstar Melissa Etheridge (June 1-3)
  • Grammy nominee Rufus Wainwright reprises his legendary remake of Judy Garland’s legendary Carnegie Hall concert (June 5-10)

Nightlife impresario Daniel Nardicio opens his new multi-level queer discothèque/comedy club/café Red Eye New York on Pride Weekend. Highlights of their summer bookings include:

  • American Idol favorite Ada Vox (June 30)
  • Drag comedy legend Sherry Vine (July 13)

 

FIRE ISLAND 

The Pavillion, Fire Island Pines

  • Monday nights belong to New York’s own, Pixie Aventura, who can do it all better and smarter and funnier than anyone

Whyte Hall, Fire Island Pines

  • Daniel Nardicio presents Ada Vox (July 2)
  • John Waters’ new solo show False Negative, presented by Daniel Nardicio (July 30)

Ice Palace, Cherry Grove

  • Fridays Daniel Nardicio continues his legendary D World Underwear Party
  • Mondays at the Ice Palace are Broadway Sessions with Ben Cameron

Cherry’s On The Bay, Cherry Grove

  • Sundays Infamous RuPaul’s Drag Race queen Tina Burner wins you over
  • Mondays (plus Tuesdays in August) Hedda Lettuce reads the room for the filth that made her famous

And if you can’t get to Fire Island in person, make sure to watch actor-writer Joel Kim Booster’s brilliant Fire Island on Hulu. Co-starring with Booster are Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Matt Rogers, Tomas Matos, Torian Miller, Nick Adams, and the one and only Margaret Cho. Watching this movie is like spending a week on Fire Island; as the minutes dwindled down, I got so sad it was almost over.

If you do make it out and you’re still feeling sentimental about our gay paradise, the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society is offering dishy walking tours with a lot hotter gossip about what went on in this architectural beauties than the fancy society’s name might suggest. Do it!

 

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Ben Rimalower

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