I saw a Broadway show for the first time in my life over fall break. Then I did it four more times during that weekend.
The shows I had the pleasure of seeing are “Book of Mormon,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Leopoldstadt,” “Into the Woods” and “Beetlejuice.” “Book of Mormon” and “Into the Woods” have found heaps of praise on their own, so I will omit them from my reviews. Instead, I will share my thoughts on the other three, which I feel are less popular.
“LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS”
There are a few things you may consider before reading this review. I went into the show blind, with only a vague idea of what it was about. I have not seen the “Little Shop of Horrors” movie, either. As far as the show’s content, it is about a murderous sentient plant and has a theme of abusive relationships that may hinder your enjoyment of it.
The scene decorations and the actors are truly the highlights of the show. The stage is almost always the same scene: a section of a street that leads into Mushnik’s flower shop right in the center, with a couple of buildings to its side. What awed me is although the front window panel is removed so the audience can see the actors better, the actors work around it as if it were there. The only time the actors ignored the imaginary wall was for a dance number. The masterfully crafted decorations, smooth transitions of such and the actors’ work with them did a wonderful job setting the scene for the show, immersing the audience in the story.
I was most amazed by the character of Audrey, performed by Lena Hall in the performance I got to see. When she sang, Audrey still had her Brooklyn accent, and she seemed effortlessly light on her feet even while wearing the highest heels I’ve ever seen. The show I saw also featured Bryce Pinkham, who starred in the Tony-winning musical “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” in a variety of roles. His versatility and range were astounding.
Then, of course, there’s the monstrous plant, a highlight of its own. Part of the magic comes from the hard work that must have gone into constructing the props and making them come to life. The murderous plant Twoey first appears as simple handheld puppets, then a suit for a whole person to control, and then a huge murder machine that needs two people controlling it to reach its full potential.
It is important to note that a central character is in an abusive relationship for the first half of the show. I went into the show completely blind, and seeing the abuse performed on a Broadway stage opened up some of my old wounds. While the show has a clear message against such relationships and the abuse is an excellent plot element, it was the theme itself that triggered me during the performance and gave me a lot of feelings of anxiety. Whether fueled by this anxiety or otherwise, I was also genuinely frightened by some sequences and not prepared for the ending. My advice to anyone who may be as faint of heart as I am is to first watch the movie and then decide whether you wish to be immersed in it.
That said, I’m sure that fans of the movie, such as my friend who dragged me to the show in the first place, would love the show. I enjoyed seeing it too, but I probably won’t choose to see it again.
As with “Little Shop of Horrors,” I went into “Leopoldstadt” blind, despite the theater providing a family tree and background of the play. The play deals with the topic of the Holocaust.
At first, I didn’t know how to feel about Tom Stoppard’s 2020 play. My first impression was that the play felt empty with not much for me to work with, and I didn’t find myself agreeing with my friends who said it “did a great job depicting the Holocaust.” But upon challenging myself by thinking of ways I would have wanted the event depicted, I found that it, indeed, did a great job.
The play follows a Jewish family living in Vienna, Austria from 1899 to 1955. Therefore, most of the play does not take place during the Holocaust, instead connecting viewers to the large multigenerational family with ties its members can hardly keep track of, only three of which would live until the end of the play.
Up to 30 named characters appear on stage during the play, utilizing primarily the same space — the once affluent family’s drawing room. The characters change over time in age, mannerisms and clothing, which made it realistic, yet difficult to follow, at least for me. Perhaps the characters themselves mean little in the greater picture.
Instead of focusing on the loud and gruesome horrors of the genocide itself, the play presents the viewer with problems and injustices the Jewish people have faced even before it happened, and the silent ever-present mourning that is to plague them after the fact.
It’s thought-provoking, sad and true, something we don’t usually expect to see from a show on Broadway.
Contrary to the other two shows I reviewed, I was familiar with both the musical’s soundtrack and the movie it was based on. The show cranks up the language and sexual themes present in the original movie, and, as Alex Brightman playing Beetlejuice correctly notes on stage, makes “a bold departure from the original source material” to tackle the theme of grief.
I loved that in this rendition of “Beetlejuice” the main character Lydia got fleshed out as a real, emotional and upset teenage girl, instead of the Tim Burton archetype: morbid, monotonous and mysterious for no reason besides a somewhat fetishized aesthetic. It allowed the exploration of Burton’s beloved grim themes in lights that relate to the living and breathing audience seated in front of the stage most: grief, regret and memory.
The musical numbers take advantage of all that is available: stage decorations, props, lighting, music, costumes and choreography. I was beaming, my mouth agape with excitement the whole time, especially for the re-creation of the movie’s iconic “Day-O” scene, where ghosts Barbara and Adam possess the guests at a dinner party. The show probably had the most diverse scenery I’d ever seen on stage and the most compelling props that the characters snapped in half.
What I loved most about the performance is that it felt like Brightman’s personal stand-up comedy show — the guy’s got to keep himself engaged in the role he’d been performing for the six years the show has been on Broadway. He made jokes that I never would have expected in the movie or from simply listening to the soundtrack, nor were they jokes I thought the theater’s audience would ever hear again, such as a reference to Jason Derulo’s singing of his name.
I truly feel I had the most satisfying and unique experience seeing a show I had longed to see live from the moment I discovered it, and all in the nick of time before it leaves Broadway a week into 2023.
No matter what Broadway show you see, you are likely to walk away fulfilled by a masterful performance. Even if a couple of shows may not be to your liking, there are absolutely some you will love.