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NCPR theater critic Connie Meng
NCPR theater critic Connie Meng

Pleasant surprises on Broadway

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NCPR's resident theater critic Connie Meng spends a lot of time on the road around the region during the theater season. Just before the Tony awards were announced last weekend, Connie was in New York City taking in some of the best music and drama that Broadway is offering this summer.

So, if you're visiting the city this season, Connie has some theater recommendations. Five of the Tony winners for acting were in the four shows she saw recently: Nice Work if You Can Get it, Peter and the Starcatcher, Other Desert Cities, and One Man, Two Guvnors.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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The Tony Awards had many pleasant surprises in store this year. Connie Meng recently had the opportunity to watch four shows on Broadway that featured five of this year’s Tony winners. “I really lucked out,” said Meng, who recommends all of the shows.

Nice Work If You Can Get It is a musical written by Joe DiPietro. “They’ve plugged in a whole bunch of wonderful Gershwin songs,” said Meng, who saw the show. “They’re all in there, so what could be bad?” The production stars Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara, and the supporting actors Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye both won Tony Awards.

“They’re just wonderful. Judy does this marvelous drunk scene, this stiff old duchess drunk scene, where she ends up dancing on the luncheon table and then swinging from a chandelier while hitting a high b flat. It’s just a riot,” said Meng. “It’s just a great, big, good, old fashioned musical.”

According to Meng, Peter and the Starcatcher was her favorite show. It’s based on a book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and it’s about how Peter became Peter Pan. “It’s very funny, very clever, very inventive theatrically. There’s no big scenery; the cast does it all with ropes and banners and stuff,” said Meng. She described a scene from the play that involved yellow birds flying around the heads of the actors; the birds were actually yellow gloves.

Christian Borle, who won the Best Supporting Actor in a Play, plays the man who ultimately becomes Captain Hook. The rest of the cast includes pirates, Indians, crocodiles and mermaids. Meng said, “It’s 12 men and one woman, and they play them all. The mermaids are hilarious. But I still had a tear in my eye at the end when Peter flew.”

The third show that Meng attended was Other Desert Cities, a fairly serious drama by Jon Robin Baitz. “It’s a very good play if you want something with a little more meat to it,” said Meng. Judith Light won the Best Supporting Actress in a Play award for her role. “She’s very good and I’m so glad she won because she’s been around a long time.”

The winner of Best Actor in a Play was James Corden for his role in One Man, Two Guvnors. “It’s Benny Hill without the sexual innuendo. It’s so funny, I actually hurt after it,” said Meng of the production. Corden was one of a number of Tony winners this year who had not expected to receive awards. Corden has referred to himself as “just a bloke who does comedy,” but such acting is not as easy as it looks.

“He was so surprised to win the Tony because he won it against four real heavyweight American actors,” said Meng. “He just was astounded that he won, but I’m so glad the Tony voters finally recognized the truth of that old saying ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard.’”

According to Meng, everyone in the play is hilarious. It is set in the 1960s and features a band that used to be referred to as a Skiffle Group. It’s a four-man band that does original songs that performs for 15 minutes before the play, and also between scenes. The play was nominated for best score despite the fact that it is a play, not a musical.

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