The new Broadway show “One Man, Two Guvnors” is the hoot of the season. On one level, it’s a story about a dum-dum who becomes the full-time lackey for two different shady employers and who hasn’t the brains to handle one full-time job, let alone two. On another level, it’s a vehicle for running wonderfully amok — and taking an audience along. Whatever it is, I dare you to see it and not laugh out loud, a lot. “One Man, Two Guvnors,” which opened Wednesday night, is from the National Theatre of Great Britain, and it comes intact with a four-piece band called The Craze. The show is both a musical and a play — The Craze plays its brand of ‘60s music to accompany the play, set in the same period.
Several modern plays touch on abuse and molestation but none I know of, including the much-produced Doubt, wield the sheer force of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive. Vogel, celebrated as both a playwright and a teacher of playwriting, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for this look at the history of a woman and her uncle in a web of exploitation and defilement. It’s a clearly written, nuanced, and immensely theatrical work — a narrative that Vogel seems to have built, deconstructed, then rearranged for maximum effect — and bringing it off demands well-considered acting and direction. Those are the hallmarks of the production by Theatre Horizon, which opened the play Friday in Norristown, its final show at Centre Theater before it moves a few blocks to its own new space that should be ready in the fall.
The new play Peter and the Starcatcher is a trip in so many ways. It’s a literal trip, a loopy story about the pirate crews of two ships chasing each other for a misplaced treasure possibly aboard one of the vessels. It’s trippy, with a plot centered on something that seems called star stuff that seems to come from somebody’s psychedelic dream and could be used for good or evil or just to make things weird. And it’s a trip in slangy way, with over-the-top characters and a script that plays with everything from the English language to the audience. It’s a little like Monty Python in its wit and silliness, a little like Wicked in that it fabricates a backstory for an iconic one, and a lot like a piece of children’s theater that went wildly awry. It’s also big fun, if you give it the chance.
Somewhere over the rainbow, Judy Garland never spotted her pot of gold. But a British actress named Tracie Bennett found hers - in the person of Judy. She is sensational in the erratic Broadway show End of the Rainbow, about Garland's last attempt at a comeback, which opened Monday night. If you're among Garland's legion of fans, you'll want to see Rainbow, but even if you're not, you'll want to see Bennett. Every minute she sings, Bennett channels Garland like a medium at a sÃ©ance, and what would a Judy Garland impression be without the singing? You also get the complete Garland in the look, the body-type and the way she tosses herself around the stage, even the way she holds a mike and moves her eyes and sings with her hands as much as her voice.
NEW YORK - I was on Broadway when I suddenly walked right into Center City Philadelphia. It was weird - a big banner on the stage of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre announced "PHILADELPHIA WELCOMES DELEGATES" and other signs told us we were at a 1960 presidential nominating convention. When the show started, Derek McLane's nifty set with rotating walls spun out to reveal a room in the Bellevue Stratford Hotel, which looked like the real thing from five decades back, down to the moldings.
The rich stories involving a golem - a fictional Jewish guardian imbued with the dangerous power to protect at all costs - make perfect sense in light of Jewish history. A golem is like a security blanket, but much scarier: It provides comfort but also must fight oppression. The most famous golem story - they are all tales, with golem springing from an ancient Hebrew word that means a shapeless form - is set in 16th-century Prague. In the world-premiere play called The Golem, which Ego Po Classic Theater opened Thursday night with an experienced cast and unwavering sincerity - there's a neat twist.
What a divine season it is for Jesus on Broadway. On one stage, nuns make a joyful noise in Sister Act. On another, he figures highly in The Book of Mormon. Yet another has him as the central figure in Godspell. And he is now in revival - here, we're talking Broadway more than theology - in an effusive Jesus Christ Superstar, the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that opened Thursday.
Howard Shapiro joined The Inquirer in 1970 and has held many writing and editing positions, including cultural arts editor and travel editor. He now writes for The Inquirer’s features section.
His “On Travel” column appears occasionally on Sundays in Travel, and his theater reviews appear in the Daily Magazine and Weekend.
Find his podcasts with theater artists at http://go.philly.com/theater