Sometimes for a control freak like me, it’s hard to just let go and allow someone else to plan something — especially something with as many options as a weekend in New York. But, take my advice. If you want an informative and entertaining Broadway experience, do as Alan and I did. Let the Clarence Brown Theatre plan it for you.
Once a year, in March, Cal MacLean, the personable artistic director of the Clarence Brown Theatre and head of the University of Tennessee Theatre Department, accompanies a group of Clarence Brown supporters to NYC for a theater weekend. Cal selects all the plays and, most importantly, he usually plans some kind of “behind the scenes” experience for the group. On previous trips we have had lunch with an actor, a playwright and a casting director. This year, he arranged for us to get a behind-the-scenes tour of The Lion King. As you can imagine, the props and costumes were fantastic!
Cal believes it best to see the plays that are in preview performances. That way, he says, you can almost see the actors figuring out the parts. He feels that it’s much more interesting than going to see a play that’s been running on Broadway for several years. The plays he selected this year were Matilda based on the children’s story by Roald Dahl (who was married for 30 years to Knoxville’s Patricia Neal); Lucky Guy, starring Tom Hanks in a play by the late, great Nora Ephron; and Motown: The Musical produced by Berry Gordy and starring University of Tennessee graduate Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross. In addition, Alan and I went up a day early to see The Book of Mormon, a play definitely not still in previews but a “must see” nonetheless.
And what a great weekend it was. Tony Award nominations were announced today and the three plays Cal selected for us to see garnered 25 nominations among them. Lucky Guy was nominated for Best Play and its star, Tom Hanks, was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play. Matilda was nominated for Best Musical and its star, Bertie Carvel, was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical. And Valisia LeKae is in contention for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her role as Diana Ross in Motown: The Musical. Plus 20 other nominations!
Icing on the cake was running into some good friends from Nashville who were in town for other reasons.
Here’s what we did. Maybe you’ll get some ideas for the next New York trip you plan. And, if you decide to go with the Clarence Brown Theatre, maybe we’ll see you there!
Click here for a link to Becco’s website. And then, on to The Book of Mormon at Eugene O’Neill Theatre.
I don’t want to spoil anyone’s viewing of the play, so I won’t say too much about it. Suffice it to say that, even though I am not one who is easily shocked, I was a little surprised by some of the content and language. To put it simply, this play is dirty — and funny! You have been warned.
Click here for a link to Sardi’s website.
On Friday, before the scheduled time to meet up with the Clarence Brown group, we decided to take in the Museum of Modern Art, a place we both love. And, besides, it was raining. The place was packed. We began with lunch, which we shared with our Nashville friend Janis McNeely, who had accompanied her husband, Mark, to New York where he was judging a public relations contest. Mark is a partner in McNeely Pigott and Fox, the largest public relations firm in Tennessee. (McNeely Pigott and Fox is a partner of Moxley Carmichael in the Tennessee Public Relations Alliance, a statewide alliance of PR firms.)
When it was time to meet our Clarence Brown group, we gathered for dinner at a large Italian place called Trattoria Dopo Teatro at 125 W. 44th Street.
About, Matilda. It is a very dark musical about a little girl’s awful childhood. Cal said it was his favorite of the three he selected for us to see. But it was my least favorite. Here’s why: It was too dang long! More 2-1/2 hours. Now, granted, another play we saw, “Motown: The Musical” was that long. And “The Lion King,” whose set we visited, was that long. But they moved! I found Matilda to be repetitive. In short, it needed an editor. I know it’s getting rave reviews on Broadway and in London — and a Tony nomination today for Best Musical — but, hey, this is my blog and so you get my opinion. Ha!
Immediately after Matilda, we headed over to the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway where The Lion King also had just let out. We were led through the stage door and took an elevator to the backstage area.
Rohe, herself a graduate of UT’s Theatre Department, said she wanted to be an actor when she first enrolled. But there was one problem: She had stage fright! So she switched to costume design. She has been with The Lion King for nine years. It takes 150 people to run the show, she said. Sixteen of those just handle the costumes — plus a 17th “swing person” who knows all the parts can can fill in if something goes wrong with any character.
First order of business: brunch. We went to a Greek place we really like. Kellari Taverna, 19 W. 44th Street.
We had a little time to kill, so we strolled over to Bryant Park. In New York City, you get kind of used to seeing people dressed up as cartoon characters and such. But what the heck were these things, we wondered?
Give up? They are water bottles! Tupperware was giving away free water bottles at Bryant Park to celebrate World Water Day (who knew?). And I guess they thought . . .Well, who knows what they thought?
It was almost time for our matinee.
We LOVED Motown: The Musical! You simply must go see it. It contains scores of fabulous songs from Motown’s heyday and tells the story of Berry Gordy founding the company and then moving it from Detroit to Los Angeles. It is a story of friendship and betrayal (at least in Gordy’s mind). And in the backdrop is the story of the love affair between Gordy and Diana Ross. Actor Lavisia LeKae, the UT grad, is simply fabulous as Diana Ross — as reflected by her Tony nomination this morning. This was our favorite of all the plays we saw.
After Motown, our group gathered at Thalia, 828 8th Avenue (at 50th Street).
A word about Lucky Guy. Alan and I loved it. But it is about a newspaper columnist and both of us used to be in the newspaper business. Tom Hanks was, of course, fantastic. I consider him one of the best living actors so I was not surprised he garnered a Tony nomination this morning for his part. But, as much as we loved the play, some in our party found it boring. Several even left at intermission. I understand that. If you aren’t caught up in the business, you may find it slow-moving. There are a lot of words in it. And, whereas the conflicts and ethical dilemmas to Alan and me seemed realistic and wrenching, to others they obviously did not resonate as much. We recommend it, though. And it did get that Tony nomination.
And then in came our friends Janis and Mark McNeely and Dave Goetz and Katie Varney, also of McNeely Pigott and Fox. Fun!
We left the next day for Knoxville and, let me tell you, it took us a week at work to recover from the trip. But we’ve already put a deposit down on next year’s theatrical adventure.