We lost Professor Georgeson on the subway the first night. We got stuck in the subway for two hours the last night. In between, we walked a lot and we swiped our metro cards a lot. We wore dark colors and pretended to look tough. We went to the Met and tried to absorb gallery after gallery of precious art. Yet despite whatever else we did—and it was a lot—this New York Theatre trip was really all about the shows. We saw three as a group: “War Horse,” “Porgy & Bess,” and “Anything Goes.” Don’t ask me to choose between them.
I told anyone who asked that the show I was most excited to see was “War Horse.” The Handspring Puppet Company got a special Tony Award for their work and I knew my hopes and dreams wouldn’t be dashed by one of those pesky little understudy notices in my Playbill, since puppets don’t call out sick or take vacation. I was not disappointed; the puppets were all truly works of art. In fact, the entire production was marked by the same level of artistry, simplicity, and true theatricality that made the puppets so compelling. “War Horse” is coming to the Kennedy Center in October. I recommend it.
I was first introduced to Audra McDonald many moons ago, sometime after she won her first Tony Award for “Carousel.” My mom listened to the cast recording so many times I was sick of it. Now it’s 18 years later and McDonald has three more Tony Awards to her name. In all that time, she’s almost become an old friend. Well, now that I’ve seen “Porgy & Bess,” I’m pretty sure I can guarantee my friend Audra her 5th Tony Award. As Bess, Audra conveyed the big emotions of the work with brutal honesty while still managing moments of understated brilliance. I used my binoculars to watch quiet tears stream down her face several times, but they weren’t meant to be seen from the back row; they were the byproduct of being fully invested in her part. Of course, “Porgy and Bess” is as much about everyone else on Catfish Row as it is about Bess, and the other performers matched their lead actress well. It was an experience I will never forget.
As per our usual routine, my dad—one of the two Southern Virginia theatre professors who led the trip—and I got to the theatre for “Anything Goes” a half hour before curtain to hand out tickets to the group. It was a madhouse out there. Sutton Foster, the star of the show, was leaving three days later and the house was completely sold out. A woman even approached my dad and asked if she could buy the tickets that were in his hand. Not missing a beat, he told her she could buy one for $1,000. When she responded positively, we then had to inform her that we weren’t scalpers and she couldn’t buy a ticket ($1,000 would have been nice, though).
“Anything Goes” was a master class in comedy. With three Broadway legends in the show—Sutton Foster, Joel Grey, and John McMartin—the energy was high. Our sold-out house ate up anything Foster or Grey did. All they had to do was look at us to elicit a raucous round of applause and show-stopping laughter. It was a fun night at the theatre and between well-landed jokes and having legroom for the first time (thank you, Stephen Sondheim Theatre!), I had a smile on my face from start to finish.
We also had a free night where we could see another show of our choosing. Some went to see Broadway’s longest running show “The Phantom of the Opera,” some saw Nick Jonas in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and some came with my family to see “Mary Poppins.” (After all, my dad does hold the distinction of being the very first Bert in any stage version of the classic Disney movie. But that’s another story…).
All in all, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a theatre geek like me. Thanks, Southern Virginia Travel Study!
(Post and Photos by Leigh Stoddard.)