Revivals bringing theatergoers to Broadway

This Nov. 30, 2018 photo shows screenwriter and playwright Aaron Sorkin in New York to promote his latest stage project, an adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird." (Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP)

With the arrival of January, the holiday season has officially ended, but for those who didn’t travel to New York City to attend Radio City Hall’s Christmas Spectacular, there are several new musicals and, more importantly, a couple of revivals that still beacon theatergoers to Broadway.

While new musicals based upon movies (“Pretty Woman,” “Tootsie”) will likely do hefty business at the box office, a couple of current revivals continue to be hot tickets during these Winter months and upcoming Spring.

Both “My Fair Lady” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” are deservedly selling out, and are proving to be both artistic and popular successes.

“My Fair Lady”

Vivian Beaumont Theater

Although I saw the original production over 50 years ago, the recent revival proves that “My Fair Lady” is probably still one of “America’s Greatest Musicals.”

Based upon George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” in which a Cockney flower-girl yearns to be transformed into a lady, Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation resonated throughout the mammoth Lincoln Center Theater when I saw the revival a few weeks ago.

The lyrical score (“Won’t It Be Loverly,” “With A Little Bit of Luck,” ‘On the Street Where You Live,” ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”) never sounded better.

Laura Benanti was strong and feisty as Eliza Doolittle, and although Harry Hadden-Paton had the day off, the role of Professor Higgins was played by a very capable understudy Michael Halling.

But it was Norbert Leo Butz — whom I saw with John Lithgow 20 years ago in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” on Broadway — that stole the show. As Eliza’s always-tipsy father Alfred Doolittle, Butz was simply delightful prancing and dancing, especially in the rowdy production number “Get Me to the Church On Time.” The prolonged applause following this number literally stopped the show!

Although it did not win in last year’s Tony as “Best Revival,” losing to “Once Upon the Island” and the other nominee “Carousel,” “My Fair Lady” has a great score and is worth a trip to New York to see this iconic musical.

“To Kill a Mockingbird”

Shubert Theatre

What may possibly add to the box-office appeal of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s 1960 novel was recently named as the most popular, beloved book in a nationwide poll.

Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation differs notably from the original script in a couple of ways: First of all, the roles of two prominent African-American characters, the maid Calpurnina and the falsely accused Tom Robinson, are greatly enhanced. Secondly, to pacify the estate of Lee, which objected to certain aspects in the original script, the storyline reportedly begins with the trial, and uses flashbacks, and Atticus’ children Scout and Jem, now adults, narrating the coming-of-age novel about racism and injustice in the Depression era.

But it is Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch who is drawing the most attention. A widowed father, Atticus is the small town lawyer, who is given a nearly impossible task of defending Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white girl.

The original version of “To Kill A Mockingbird” received a major production by the area’s Millbrook Playhouse last summer, with Marie Fox directing the courtroom drama for the Community Theatre League later this Spring.

Broadway’s current revival paints Atticus as not only morally-grounded but also a vocal open-minded progressive.

From the on-going sell-outs, Aaron Sorkin has not only humanized Atticus Finch, but has inserted soaring language to make “To Kill A Mockingbird” crackle with excitement and energy. This Broadway adaptation is another hot ticket both for regular theatergoers and tourists as well.

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