Hi, everyone! I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. Or, depending on your history with this blog, re-introduce myself. I’m Cameron Kelsall, and I’m the new (old) writer for Show Showdown. Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while may remember me; I posted regularly as a contributing blogger here from 2009-2012. Prior to that, I was also a contributing writer for New Theater Corps, Channel 13’s companion blog to their wonderful program Theater Talk, and I maintained my own theatre-related blog, Theatre Snobbery, from 2006-2009.
I had to leave Show Showdown in 2012, when I moved to North Dakota for a teaching position. (Pro-tip: Don’t move to North Dakota for any reason. Just don’t do it.) After two years in the tundra, I recently moved back to NYC, and I am so happy that my fellow contributors have allowed me to resume sharing my opinions about my favorite subjects: live theatre and the arts. On a personal note, I am deeply honored to have this opportunity to continue the work of my dear friend Patrick Lee, who put his heart and soul into making this one of the best theatre blogs on the Internet.
For someone who spent the last 2+ years living about as far away from Broadway as you can get, I still managed to see a fair amount of theatre in and around New York. As a way of getting myself back in the game, I wanted to take a moment and briefly highlight five of my favorite productions from the last few seasons. In alphabetical order:
Act One (Broadway—Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont): A sumptuous love letter to the theatre itself, and one of its most beloved tomes. Everything about James Lapine’s thoughtful adaptation of Moss Hart’s legendary memoir was spot-on, and adeptly created a feeling of both the grit and glamour of putting on a show in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Santino Fontana and Tony Shaloub shared the role of Hart beautifully; Shaloub was even better as Moss’ mentor and adversary, George S. Kaufman. Production-wise, I can hardly think of a recent production that used the Vivian Beaumont’s unique space better.
After Midnight (Broadway—Brooks Atkinson Theatre): I knew nothing about this ode to the world of Harlem cabaret when I walked into the theatre; ninety minutes later, I left walking on air. Simply put, this is the best revue I’ve ever seen. Blending electric dance, hot jazz, and brilliant singers with the poetry of Langston Hughes (stylishly delivered by Dule Hill, in the role of M.C.), After Midnight was a unique theatrical experience that managed to encompass a whole world in a small show. The performers possessed jaw-dropping talent, but Adriane Lenox (who ended up with a Tony nomination for two numbers) was first among equals.
Fun Home (Off-Broadway—The Public Theater): When I first heard that Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori were planning to adapt Alison Bechdel’s graphic-memoir Fun Home into a musical, I was skeptical. My reservations were partially based on the fact that Bechdel’s book is one of the most important works of literature to my own life; a shoddy adaptation would certainly feel like a personal betrayal. There was also the matter of telling Alison’s story from ages nine to forty-three, and translating an illustrated text to the stage. Kron and Tesori made the brilliant decision to have three Alisons: the adult (Beth Malone), a lesbian cartoonist living in Vermont; the teenager (Emily Skeggs at the performance I attended, replacing Alexandra Socha), coming to terms with her sexuality as a college freshmen; and the young girl (Sydney Lucas, who gave simply the best juvenile performance I’ve ever seen) who knows she’s different, but doesn’t know why. The brilliant Michael Cerveris did career-best work as Alison’s father, a closeted homosexual funeral director who could never fully repress his desires, hard as he tried. Tesori’s score, both tuneful and elegant, stayed with me for weeks. Look for Fun Home to arrive on Broadway in April of 2015.
Tribes (Off-Broadway—Barrow Street Theater): The complicated dynamics of a family and its relationship to language were brilliantly dissected in this British import. Billy (Russell Harvard) is deaf; the rest of his family is hearing, and have never made any concessions to his disability. As an adult, he meets and falls for a hearing woman (Susan Pourfar) from a deaf family, who herself is slowly losing her ability to hear. Through this relationship, Billy comes into himself and comes to understand the damage his family has done in disregarding his difference. It was wonderful to see a deaf actor playing a deaf role, and the entire cast was extraordinary; the great Jeff Perry did great work as the family’s emotionally violent patriarch.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Broadway—Booth Theatre): Seeing a classic play with fresh eyes is always thrilling. I thought I knew everything you could about Edward Albee’s classic 1963 marital dramedy, but the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s revival that appeared on Broadway in 2012 stood out in a way no other production ever has. Frequent collaborators Tracy Letts and Amy Morton were born to play George and Martha; the former rightfully won Tony and Drama Desk prizes, and it’s hard to imagine anyone coming close to him any time soon.