Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for April 2011

By Brandon Voss

Originally published on Advocate.com May 11 2011 6:40 PM ET

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The Normal Heart
Directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe, Larry Kramer’s gut-punching 1985 drama about the AIDS crisis beats mightily with breathtaking performances by out actors Joe Mantello as activist Ned Weeks and John Benjamin Hickey as his ill lover. I found some directorial choices questionable — unnecessary scenic projections, for starters — but it’s best not to quibble with an impassioned treatise so cherished that it transcends theater.
John Golden Theatre, through July 10.

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Sister Act
Based on the 1992 film, this besequined tuner is glorious thanks to a catchy, soulful Alan Menken-Glenn Slater score to match the story’s new 1970s Philly setting. Patina Miller erases memories of Whoopi as Deloris, who coaches a convent choir while in witness protection. Out playwright Douglas Carter Beane has given the book a sassy overhaul since that includes a Deloris drag queen and “a pair of bachelors who deal in antiques.”
Broadway Theatre, open-ended. 

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The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Ablaze with profane verbal fireworks that would make David Mamet blush, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s lean comedy about infidelity benefits from robust performances by Bobby Cannavale as Jackie, a hotheaded recovering addict, and Chris Rock as his sketchy sponsor. Yul Vázquez is a scene-stealer as Jackie’s maybe-gay cousin Julio, who gives a moving speech about how Jackie never abandoned him when bullies called him “faggot.”
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, through July 17. 

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The People in the Picture
Leave it to Beaches writer Iris Rainer Dart to pen the book and lyrics to the best Jewish musical since Fiddler on the Roof, a Holocaust story with yuks and a serviceable score by old hit-makers Mike Stoller and Artie Butler. Donna Murphy makes a meal of her role as a dying Bubbie recalling her youth as a Yiddish theater actress. Alexander Gemignani, who last played gay in Road Show, costars as her “homosexual” husband of convenience.
Studio 54, through June 19.

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Catch Me If You Can
Based on the 2002 film about teen con man Frank Abagnale, Jr., this stylish musical has a gay dream team — librettist Terrence McNally, choreographer Jerry Mitchell, director Jack O’Brien, and composer-lyricists Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman — but as oddly framed by a confession via a ’60s variety show, it’s low on substance. As Frank and his pursuant FBI agent, Howl’s Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz work hard for little effect.
Neil Simon Theatre, open-ended. 

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Anything Goes
Joel Grey as gangster Moonface Martin does nothing to make this ship-set musical less creaky, but it’s still good for showcasing sparkling Cole Porter tunes (“You’re the Top” always makes me giggle!), hot sailors in tight white pants, and “no homo” moments of mistaken identity. Miscast as brassy nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, Sutton Foster can’t compare to Merman and LuPone, but her big voice and charm keep this revival afloat.
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, through January 8. 

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High
Writer Matthew Lombardo and director Rob Ruggiero, the gay duo who took on Tallulah Bankhead in Looped, reunited on this clichéd melodrama, which starred a blowsy Kathleen Turner as a foul-mouthed nun and Evan Jonigkeit as Cody, the gay meth-addict she rehabilitates. In the flop’s most memorable scene, Cody stripped naked and tried to assault the sister; I’m not saying “it” was distracting, but he should get a special Tony.
Booth Theatre, closed April 24. 

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Go Back to Where You Are
This ingeniously surreal, self-aware comedy could have only come from the odd mind of out actor-playwright David Greenspan. The quirky Some Men star played a shapeshifting chorus boy from ancient Greece who falls for a handsome widower — Brian Hutchinson, who last played gay in Looped — when god-sent to present-day Long Island. Helmed by out director Leigh Silverman, it was the sweetest, strangest gay love story of the season.
Playwrights Horizons, closed May 1. 

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Picked
In out playwright Christopher Shinn’s perplexing drama, Cloverfield’s appealing Michael Stahl-David stars as Kevin, a young actor whose career stalls after he does a space movie with a slimy director and unstable costar. Kevin, who’d rather take baths than sleep with his girlfriend, worries that people perceive him as gay. Shinn’s a master of suspense, but nothing really happens, forcing viewers to read between all the weird homoerotic tension.
Vineyard Theatre, through May 22. 

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Reading Under the Influence
Watch what happens when a kooky group of wine-guzzling Westchester County women sell the rights to their book club to slimy reality TV producer in Tony Glazer’s comedy. Die Mommie Die’s Ashley Austin Morris is a delight as a vajazzled ditz who causes a brief stir when she declares her bisexuality and makes out with a curious club member. The jokes are often hokey and stale, but I’d totally tune in if these ladies were on Bravo.
DR2 Theatre, through May 15. 

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School for Lies
Written in vicious verse, this gleeful riff on Molière’s The Misanthrope — the latest collaboration of playwright David Ives and director Walter Bobbie — cleverly marries period flair with modern slang, serving up a comic feast for Hamish Linklater and Mamie Gummer as acid-tongued French aristocrats. Among the fancy fops, Hoon Lee is a highlight as Philante, who embraces rumors of his crossdressing habit with gusto.
Classic Stage Company, through May 22. 

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Carson McCullers Talks About Love
In her solo show, Suzanne Vega puts on a mousey wig and wipes off lipstick to become troubled writer Carson McCullers, who doesn’t shy from detailing her lesbian crushes and flings. Written with Spring Awakening’s Duncan Sheik, the concept album-like songs are just gorgeous, and the “Tom’s Diner” singer’s caramel voice suits them splendidly, but cutesy banter with pianist Joe Iconis makes the messy tribute feel like cheesy cabaret.
Rattlestick Theatre, through June 4. 

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The House of Blue Leaves
Out director David Cromer discovers the darkest shades of blue in John Guare’s black comedy set during the Pope’s 1965 visit to New York. Ben Stiller and Edie Falco are fantastic as wannabe songwriter Artie and his crazy wife Bananas, but Jennifer Jason Leigh, who’s nearly unrecognizable as Artie’s mistress, is this revival’s unsung hero. Fun fact: Stiller made his Broadway debut 25 years ago as Artie’s bomb-making son Ronnie.
Walter Kerr Theatre, through July 23. 

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War Horse
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 YA novel, this British hit tugs at your heartstrings as a boy tries to find the beloved horse that was sold into a WWI cavalry regiment. With nightmarish visuals and animal puppetry that would make Julie Taymor green, it’s a uniquely unforgettable spectacle. As a gay bonus, Seth Numrich and Gossip Girl’s Matt Doyle, who play cousins, will appear as star-crossed lovers in the film Private Romeo.
Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont, open-ended. 

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Born Yesterday
Forget Jim Belushi, Robert Sean Leonard, and everything else in this uneven revival of Garson Kanin’s 1946 comedy; it’s all about Nina Arianda, the luminous ingénue who plays Billie Dawn, a dim-witted ex-showgirl getting a Pygmalion-style makeover. In her Broadway debut, Arianda finds surprising color and depth in her hilarious portrayal of the ultimate dumb blonde, a role that won Judy Holliday an Oscar for the 1950 film version.
Cort Theatre, through July 31. 

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Be a Good Little Widow
In Bekah Brunstetter’s lovely little play, a touching dramedy that perfectly fits its postage-stamp stage, Wrenn Schmidt wows as Melody, a young woman struggling to act like an adult when her newish husband dies in a plane crash. L.A. Law’s Jill Eikenberry, who recently played the mom in the musical adaptation of Dan Savage’s The Kid, makes a nagging impression as Melody’s hypercritical mother-in-law. Be good and go see it.
Ars Nova, through May 14. 

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Jerusalem
Hot off his ballyhooed work in La Bête, Mark Rylance delivers another ranting, rafter-shaking performance in Jez Butterworth’s very British import about motley misfits and a missing girl. Rylance stars as Rooster, a Falstaffian Pied Piper for young revelers, who faces eviction from an old mobile home that sits in the woods near a new housing development. At once merry and melancholy, the play wallows in the beauty of trash.
Music Box Theatre, through July 24. 

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A Minister’s Wife
My Fair Lady
was great, but did George Bernard Shaw’s Candida really need to be musicalized? Maybe not. But in Michael Halberstam’s solid production, a pleasant Sondheim-lite score does no harm to Austin Pendleton’s adaptation, which lets the story’s love triangle soar above its themes of socialism and challenged Victorian conventions. Yank! star Bobby Steggart is adorable as ever as lovesick poet Eugene.
Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, through June 12. 

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Wonderland
Home to drag Alices and theme-park pop songs by Jekyll & Hyde’s Frank Wildhorn, Lewis Carroll’s alternative universe is now shamelessly stuck in the tackiest corner of the ’90s. It’s not the worst setting for the musical, especially when it comes to boy band numbers and Miss American AIDS activist Kate Shindle as the Mad Hatter. In fact, if you remove your brain and see it as children’s theater, you might dig this Wicked rip-off.
Marquis Theatre, through May 15.

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Project: Lohan
Like its subject, Lindsay, D’Arcy Drollinger’s multi-media piece is a promising work in progress. His troupe scores with outrageous drag impersonations, especially of famous feuders Paris Hilton and the Simpson sisters, but recapping every headline can result in coked-up chaos. The show’s best when it slows down enough to let Drollinger, a winning out performer, deliver a monologue pulled from a Lohan interview or court statement.
La MaMa E.T.C., through May 15.

Read our capsule reviews of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures and Ryan O’Connor Eats His Feelings in last Friday’s Hot Sheet. Read last month’s Seat Filler review roundup here, and see a list of the 65th annual Tony Award nominations here.