2018-2019 Orlando Broadway Series review

posted by Jeff | Monday, July 15, 2019, 11:10 AM | comments: 0

To say that this was our best season yet at the still shiny Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is selling it short. This year was beyond great. We didn't get the add-on this year, which was Jersey Boys, and I'm OK with that. I saw Hamilton three times to make up for it. This is way overdue, so the shows aren't particularly fresh in my mind, but I'll do my best.

Hello Dolly

This is one of those classic musicals that I feel obligated to see, since my education needs some catching up. As revivals go, this one was selling Betty Buckley over the title. She's over 70, and won a Tony for Cats. Honestly, the most I knew about this show was the song they use in the movie Wall-E, but I knew the premise.

It was entertaining, for sure. Buckley was charming and frankly pretty good for her age. It turns out, she called out the rest of the run (Wednesday is our night) in Orlando, and word is that the understudy was pretty amazing. Still, I liked the show and it made for a fun date night.

White Christmas

This isn't technically an old show, it's just a 15-year-old show based on a really old movie. It's one of Diana's favorite movies, and I end up seeing it most years. I admit I'm not fond of old movies, but this one does convey a sense of innocence with its quaint misunderstandings and what not. The show is everything that you like about classic musicals, with lots of dancing and big numbers. It's the kind of old school spectacle that I associate with those Hollywood golden age musicals, but it's far more exhilarating when it's live on stage.

Hamilton

I called this one out and already wrote a review, because I saw it three times. First time I got what I think was the last seat, and it was opening night. Second time was our normal subscription time, then the third time was a matinee with Simon and Diana. The #PhilipTour was something special, for sure.

Fiddler On The Roof

This was the sleeper of the season. It seems there's always one non-Equity show every year that ends up being kind of "meh." This was that show. The lead playing Tevye was solid, and the two oldest daughters did OK, but that's where the skill ended in this show. The choreography was the same drill, over and over again, mostly people moving around in circles. Overall it was disappointing. Old shows don't need to be "fresh" per se, but I do expect them to be well crafted considering what ticket prices cost these days.

Broadway

OK, so this isn't technically a part of the season, but it's the second straight year that we did it, and it was awesome. As much as I know there are a million things to do in New York, it's impossible not to love going to the city and seeing as many shows as possible. I already did reviews for those shows: King Kong, The Prom, Waitress and Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Yes, Waitress was a repeat for us (played Orlando last season), but I regretted not seeing it a second time. The big surprise was The Prom, which was so, so great, and I feel fortunate that we got to see the original cast.

Dear Evan Hanson

Hanson was one of the two shows I tried very hard not to learn too much about. I knew the basic premise, but I tried hard to avoid hearing the music. I just wanted to wait and see it for myself, knowing full well after the hype that it would certainly tour. I relented the day of the show, when I listened to the original cast recording.

Without giving too much away, a miserable bully kid commits suicide, and one of his regular victims is mistakenly thought to be one of his friends. He runs with it, persisting the lie, and inadvertently takes up the cause of making sure that lonely kids are heard, so they know that they matter. It's timely given the rise in teenage suicide. The story works pretty well to a point, but in the second act you have to wait a little long for Even to be found out. The pay off comes a little late, when there's still stories to tell about the wreck that frankly all of the characters embody.

But the music is pretty great. The swelling and amazing "You Will Be Found" is worth the price of admission alone, but others like "Requiem" and "So Big/So Small" are the kinds of songs that are emotionally exhausting in a good way, that force you to feel. It's a great body of work, even if the second act needs a little work.

Anastasia

Anastasia came out in a rough year to compete, with Hamilton and Waitress, two of my favorite shows ever. School of Rock was that year as well. Calling this an adaptation of the film, which is often incorrectly attributed to Disney, is a stretch, because it only uses a few songs, in a show that's otherwise too damn long. Seriously, it needs editing because it just drags on, even after the conflict has resolved itself.

Still, it's a solid show despite the length. The performances were all pretty good, especially the lead, with beautiful sets and one of the more clever uses of video walls and projection, with probably the best blending to practical scenery that I've seen. I liked the music, even though half of it was somewhat forgettable. Like I said, the show just needs some editing.

Come From Away

This is another show where I knew the premise, but I avoided learning anything more. It's about 9/11, and the 38 planes that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada shortly after the terrorist attacks. There were 7,000 people added to a town of 9,000, so what happened next involved a lot of stories to tell. To that end, they tell a lot of stories based on the real people and events of that week. The story is told in one continuous stride, without intermission, about 100 minutes straight (bummer for concessions at the theater). The cast plays multiple people, usually a plane person and a local from Gander, and they change so quickly that they often have costume changes right on stage, adding or removing a jacket or hat. It all works surprisingly well, and with a set that's little more than chairs.

The rapid story development keeps things moving, certainly, but it also conveys a sense of urgency, which was undoubtedly felt on the ground that day. It's surprisingly funny for a show about 9/11, but it also has some deeply moving parts where the action seemingly takes the air out of the theater. There's a brilliant arrangement for a song called "Prayer" that uses what I find is often called "The Prayer of Saint Francis," but it's mixed with lyrics in Hebrew, Hindu and Arabic, to really drive home the point about the common points of religion. Then there are other songs involving fatigue, anxiety, fear and other dark feelings. It's emotionally exhausting, even to listen to the soundtrack, but at its heart, it's a show about how people can come together in the worst of situations. There are some real happy endings though, and the finale, as the band keeps playing when the lights come up, is amazing.

This is my second favorite show of the season, and if it's still running next time we visit New York, I'm pretty sure we're going to see it again.

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