By James V. Ruocco
New Haven's Shubert Theater is quickly veering toward "an instant death" (their new season confirms this), but the Bushnell, in glorious Hartford, CT, right next to the Palace (oops, I mean the State Capitol) of drippy Gov. Dan Malloy, is alive and well, with, no pun intended, "the sound of millions....(oops, here we go again), "the sound of music."
"I'm thrilled the staff at the Bushnell has put together an exciting and well-rounded season of high-quality entertainment," boasts David Fay, Hartford Bushnell President and CEO. "There is so much to appeal to families, Broadway traditionalists and those who enjoy contemporary theatrical offerings.
"I think our season ticket holders and single ticket buyers will be very happy with these award-winning selections."
Fay speaks the truth.
Year after year, the Bushnell and its staff has given their loyal subscribers, audiences and first-time theatergoers "the best of the best." The 2016-2017 Broadway season is no different. It puts, or shall I say, keeps, this prestigious theater in the number one spot (did you expect otherwise?), far ahead of its musical theatre competitors, many of whom should be embarrassed by their upcoming shoddy theatrical fare including Waterbury's Palace Theater and the Shubert in New Haven.
My advice: Put your money where it counts and head directly to Hartford, CT.
I know I am.
If/Then (Aug. 3-7)
For newly divorced Elizabeth (12 years of marriage down the drain), a move to New York City means, a fresh start. That is, a fresh start on life. a fresh start on romance, a fresh start in the workplace. I mean, when you think about it, who wouldn't want to begin again? I know I would.
"If/Then," the musical brainchild of "Next to Normal" writers Tom Kitt and Brian Yonkey, takes it cue from the parallel worlds of 1998's "Sliding Doors." Therefore, the "what if? concept of Elizabeth's journey takes two different paths as the character assumes a double identity.
The production, which originally starred Idina Menzel ("Rent," "Wicked") on Broadway and the first leg of the national tour (sorry folks, Idina has left the building), includes a snappy, serviceable score, great climactic laments, a leading lady you can't take your eyes off of plus an assorted bunch of straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual characters. Remember, this is New York City...not Topeka, Kansas.
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Oct. 25-30)
Winner of the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," originally premiered at Hartford Stage, then moved to San Diego's Old Globe Theatre before traveling on to Broadway and a national tour.
The production, set in Edwardian England, circa 1907, hilariously parodies "the gentlemanly art of murder and bloodshed," which, strange as this sounds, is played out in acerbic gory detail against the backdrop of a British musical hall.
A music hall?
The game of murder, so to speak, unfolds through the eyes of one man (ie, a distant heir to the family fortune), who decides to "inherit it all" by eliminating the eight pesky relatives who stand in his way.
But wait, there's more.
All eight characters (very noble and very, very English) are played by the same actor. Bruce Jenner....I mean Caitlin Jenner....is the understudy.....Just kidding, but you have to admit, Jenner would look absolutely stunning in all those stylish Edwardian gowns.
An American in Paris (Nov. 15-20)
Inspired by the Oscar-winning 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, "An American in Paris," is set in the city of love at the end of World War II. Here, an American soldier finds himself smitten by a beautiful but mysterious French ballerina, who, for giggly plot purposes, is promised to another.
Oh, well, you get the picture. Love, hate, deception, sacrifice, art, ballet, etc. But two hours later, the couple (and the audience) get their "happy ending " as boy and girl meet by the river Seine and walk off into the dreamy Paris moonlight.
The George & Ira Gershwin score ( "il est magnifique pourrait-on dire") features one great song after the other: "But Not for Me," "I Got Rhythm," "S Wonderful," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Liza," "An American in Paris," "The Man I Love," "I've Got Beginner's Luck," "Who Cares?" and "For You, For Me, Forever More." What's not to love!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Dec. 27-Jan. 1, 2017)
This Olivier/Tony-Award winning play tells the compelling, hypnotic story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, an autistic young man determined to find out who killed his neighbor's dog. But there is more to playwright Simon Stephens' murder mystery than just a boy with behavioral issues casting himself as a Scotland yard-like sleuth.
Though Boone's eyes, this whodunit explores man's perception of the world, its fears, its truths, its horrors, its idiosyncrasies, its mysteries, its magic and its wonders. This curiosity also allows the playwright and production team to thrust the audience inside Christopher's mind, using various special effects, lighting, colors, geometrics, props, codes, sounds and jolts to experience events exactly as he does. Bloody brilliant, if you ask me.
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Jan. 17-22, 2017)
The early life and career of songwriter Carole King is lovingly retraced in this "jukebox musical, which uses songs she wrote with husband Gerry Goffin, among others, to tell her story.
"Beautiful" is set in 1959 when King was 17 and pregnant and married to Goffin. In the 10 years that follow, we get to hear lots of song classics, including "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "Natural Woman," "Up on the Roof," "You Got a Friend," "Take Care of my Baby," "Walking in the Rain" and One Fine Day."
We also get a very real, emotional story, which moved, the real King to tears when she saw the musical about her life for the very first time. And yes, she loved it because, in her words, it "was told so compellingly."
The Book of Mormon (Feb. 14-19, 2017)
Uganda.....not Salt Lake City is the setting for "The Book of Mormon," an offbeat, off-the-wall musical that gets high marks for its absurdity, vulgarity, obscenities, religious malice and celebrated uniqueness.
Created by "South Park's" Trey Baker and Matt Stone, the actual story, so to speak, charts the valiant efforts to two goody-goody Mormon missionaries as they desperately try to convert the citizens of Uganda to the Mormon religion.
Winner of the 2011 Tony Award for Best Musical, "The Book of Mormon" is not for the faint of heart as it deviously pokes fun at smiling door-to-door Mormons, their 190-year-old Mormon religion, Jesus Christ, Darth Vader, Yoda, sexual liaisons, sacrilege, AIDS, dysentery, "The Lion King," "The King and I," "The Sound of Music" and just about everything else. Its use of four-letter words is absolutely hilarious.
Jersey Boys (March 22-26, 2017)
Looking back, they were just four guys from New Jersey anxious to form a band and hook up with the ladies. But when they sang their very first note, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons had a sound nobody had ever heard before.
The fans went wild. The radio stations went wild. The entire music industry went wild. And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, not quite.
This Tony award-winning musical also retraces the group's bad marriages, the rivalries, the backstage egos, the drugs, the mob connections, the break ups, the encores, etc.
At the center, of course, is the music: "Sherry," “Big Girls Don’t Cry," “Walk Like A Man," "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You," "Working My Way Back to You," "Rag Doll," "Dawn (Go Away)," "Fallen Angel," "C'mon Marianne" and "My Eyes Adored You."
The King and I (May 30-June 4, 2017)
The musical plot is simple enough: Anna Leonowens, a smart, often outspoken British schoolteacher is hired by the King of Siam to teach his wives and children "the western ways of the world " to help modernize his country. But as the story continues, a love develops between King and teacher that neither can admit.
Today, of course, all of this sounds especially hokey and saccharine, but this reimagined version of the 1951 Broadway classic, is anything but gooey. As seen through the eyes of the very-brilliant Bartlett Sher (yes, he is the same guy who directed plays at Hartford Stage), this revival unfolds with the just the right amount of epic sweep, color, magic and underlying wit to thrust it into the 21st century. In short, it is a theatrical masterpiece.
It runs three hours and contains all those much-loved Rodgers and Hammerstein songs “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Getting to Know You,” "Hello, Young Lovers," Something Wonderful," “Shall We Dance," "I Have Dreamed" and "We Kiss in a Shadow." Bartlett also restores the often-cut, but wonderfully acerbic "Western People Funny."
Fun Home (June 20-25)
Alison Bechdel's 2006 best-selling memoir "Fun Home" is the basis for this spirited, innovative musical about her troubled relationship with her homosexual father, a man whose gay affairs were with young men below the age of consent; her coming out as a lesbian; and her evolution into a very prominent lesbian cartoonist.
Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical 2015, "Fun Home" is not told in not chronological order. Instead, Alison's story, or should I say stories, is staged in the round (a visually effective directorial choice ) as interwoven memories, events and revelations. Ms. Bechdel's character is played by not just one, but three very talented actresses of varying ages.
“I do understand that there’s a difference between the play and my life," Bechdel explains, "but it is a very strange and permeable boundary. It’s some kind of hall-of-mirrors thing. There’s been this strange feedback effect.”
Tickets prices for the Bushnell's Broadway series are $25.50 to $96.50 depending on the production.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 987-5900.
(Jim Ruocco welcomes your comments. You can contact him at JimRuocco@aol.com)