Theatre and Dance Highlights from NYC in 2016

Last year offered so many options of new works and old favorites that I missed quite a few performances that I wanted to see, such as Othello, The Front Page, Heisenberg, Michael C. Hall in David Bowie’s Lazarus, and more. I also missed Alvin Ailey’s annual dance season as well. Last year my work schedule was hectic and I spent a bit of time in Africa, which made seeing short runs of Broadway and off Broadway performances difficult. Most of what I managed to attend was fantastic.
Alan Cumming is one of my favorite actors, so when it was announced that he was taking his cabaret show on the road, I had to buy a ticket for his Carnegie Hall show. Whether acting or singing, he is ever the entertainer. Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs was a charming evening of musical theater with a few contemporary songs thrown in, witty banter and surprise guests: Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss and Ricki Lake. The set had a little something for everyone and was long enough to make me feel content but also desiring a little more.
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Eclipsed – this performance would make a good short or behind the scenes PBS performance. The play centered on life in Liberia, Africa in 2003. It depicted the difficulties that women faced during that time, specifically the reality of life in a region under rebel control. Eclipsed was poignant, sad and funny. The acting was fantastic and the ensemble was balanced and well cast. The female cast included Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah, Lupita Nyong’o, and Saycon Sengbloh. The men were also good, but not standouts. Perhaps it resonated so strongly with me because I work in peacebuilding and spent time in Liberia last year, but honestly, I think it had more to do with the storytelling by Danai Gurira and acting from a superb ensemble.
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The newest incarnation of Arthur Miller’s the Crucible felt like a dark and eerie film noir. The play featured a star-studded cast familiar to theater, film and television audiences including Ciarán Hinds, Sophie Okonedo, Ben Winshaw, Saoirse Ronan and a large ensemble. Though many reviewers complained of Ivo van Hove’s staging, noting that it didn’t offer enough context, I didn’t need a roadmap of period associations to understand exactly what was happening. The young actors brought the play to life with their scary and at times vulnerable portrayals of young girls accused being witches, while the rest of the cast embodied a community stirring up fear and looking for answers that didn’t exist.
Most people are aware of the hilarious musical The Book of Mormon; it’s irreverent storyline and potty mouth dialogue. I first experienced this show during its first national tour and couldn’t get some of lyrics out of my head for months. Typically, I don’t see productions more than once, aside from dance performances that often rotate the pieces performed, but one of my Uncles came to NY for a visit and I couldn’t find reasonably priced tickets to Hamilton…He hadn’t seen The Book of Mormon, which I figured he would like as he is a little cheeky himself, so that was that. Now, it’s been a few years but the lines were just as funny as the first go around and the writers have updated a few cultural references, which provided unexpected laughs as well.
The last play of the bunch – Blackbird by David Harrower, featured Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams. I really wanted to like this play, but I just didn’t. It is about a pedophile and his victim, she was 12 and he was 40 at the time. In the present — Williams character 27 years old, confronts Daniels character at his workplace to relive the past. I didn’t see the original casting of this play when it was off-Broadway, perhaps I would have enjoyed that version more. The monologues were too frenzied and for most of the play I found the acting unbelievable. They can’t all be winners…
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One of my favorite performances of the year was Swan Lake by the American Ballet Theatre. I know, I know – most ballet companies perform Swan Lake, and yes, I’ve seen it before. Though I won’t divulge how many times. But…I was determined to see Misty Copeland dance. Copeland is the first African American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in NY and that’s a huge deal. When I was young, I practiced ballet, tap and modern dance. Let’s just say there wasn’t much diversity in my ballet world. I could watch Copeland solo for hours, her amazing lines, fluidity and graceful movement on stage is stunning. When I read that she would dance the role of Odile/Odette l in Swan Lake last season, I had to go because I didn’t want to run the risk of her never dancing that role again, and missing it. She was spectacular. It was a little emotional to look around and see so many beautifully dressed young girls watching an older image of themselves onstage in one of the most famous ballet roles in history. Copeland is an example that hard work and perseverance leads to dreams coming true.
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