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Three Different Shows, New York, NY

A vivid Broadway experience from the Vermont woods to Hogwarts and beyond

reviewed by J. Peter Bergman

If you have three days to spend in New York and want to indulge in the great variety of possible experiences Broadway can give you, follow my example and see one musical, one comedy/drama and one spectacle. It's the best of the best (see below for details) and memorable enough for three separate trips to the Big Apple. And, even better, you'll still have time to shop and see the sights.

The Grainger-Weasleys and the Weasley-Potters; Photo; Manuel Harlan

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

by Jack Thorne, based on a story by J.K. Rowling.

Directed by John Tiffany

"Consider this a gentle nudge from the Ministry of Magic"

Whatever you think about Harry Potter and the wizarding world this is a show worth seeing. The script is difficult, translating into two, nearly three hours each, plays (best seen on the same day), with a myriad of thick accents delivering lines in rapid-fire style for the most part. The stage design and special effects are the making of this show. Among the high-points are the flights of the dementors, the amazing appearances and disappearances of people through what appear to be solid walls and the always humorous moving staircases at the Hogwarts school. Fascinating creatures are featured along with the adult familiar faces of Harry, Ron, Hermione (now an African-American type), Professor McGonagle, Dolores Umbridge, Severus Snape and, of course, Draco Malfoy. 
The play's story is about Albus Severus Potter, Harry's younger son, and Scorpius Malfoy, the only child of Draco, their friendship and its results. Albus is played to sullen perfection by Nicholas Podany and Scorpius with a silly sense of self by Bubba Weiler. Delphi Diggery, the romantic lead and an entity not to be tangled with is beautifully played by Sara Farb. My personal favorite in the company was Stephen Spinella playing both Severus Snape and Lord Voldemort.
It is John Tiffany's direction along with movement direction by Steven Hoggett that keeps the show lively and alive on Christine Jones' remarkable sets. Jamie Harrison is responsible for the illusions and magic around which the show has been built. Neil Austin's lighting and Katrina Lindsay's costumes go a long way to keeping the intrigue, and reminiscent sense of the Potter films, as invisibility cloaks and British couture meet and match. This is a very large company and a very large show (larger than many musicals) and it needs, and captures, the audience's attention from start to finish.

Tina, The Tina Turner Musical 

Book by Katori Hall

with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

"Go now. . .but don't turn around."

Not quite matching the spectacle of "Harry Potter" is the jukebox musical life-story of Tina Turner, which presents all of the difficulties little Anna-Mae suffered at the hands of her father, mother, and husband, Ike; we also see her professional dismissal by the white men who control the record companies for which she slaves. This is, really, a living essay on late 20th century slavery on personal and profesional levels. It's a great thing when freedom, love, and talent create a unique personality and that is how this show progresses. If you ever thought "A Star Is Born" presented the challenges of a career based on self-worth, you "ain't seen nothin' yet."
Adrienne Warren, who won an Olivier Award for this role, is perfection as Tina Turner. Her acting is amazing as she takes physical abuse and rises from it each time. Her musical work will take you back to those decades when Diana Ross was queen and move you into a second world inhabited by Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey and Gladys Knight.
On the large stage at the Lunt-Fontanne, too much of the play has been staged by Phillida Lloyd forward, on the apron, making it hard to see the players, many of whom are just too good to lose that way, including Dawnn Lewis as Zelma (she'll make you cry), Skye Dakota Turner as Young Anna-Mae (a sensational vocal performance), and Jessica Rush as Rhonda. Daniel J. Watts plays Ike Turner to perfection.
The design team of Bruno Poet (lighting), Jeff Sugg (projections), Mark Thompson (sets and costumes), and Nevin Steinberg (sound), keep the show alive and moving through time. Anthony Van Laast's choreography is superb.

Super-Star Tina Turner played by Adrienne Warren; Photo: Manuel Harlan

Father and Son Harry played by Len Cariou and Alan Townsend (Craig Bierko);

Photo: Maria Baranova.

Harry Townsend's Last Stand

by George Eastman.

Directed by Karen Carpenter.

For something completely different take in a gentle but angst producing comedy-drama about the difficult relationship between an aging man and his adult son. Starring an icon of the theater, Len Cariou, and an icon-to-be, Craig Bierko as Alan, this play brings us up-close to the tensions that have existed between these men for forty years or so. Set in a cabin-home for Harry Townsend in the Vermont woods the play deals with his son's need to relocate his aging, ailing father from this bucolic setting into an assisted living facility. The difficulties surrounding their lack of closeness and Harry's other child (Alan's twin sister) keeps the audience laughing while on the edge of tears. Playwright George Eastman has brought a real conflict matching a human condition and the reactions to it into play here and director Karen Carpenter has managed to keep it real in a way that makes the inevitable not so very much so.
On a fine set designed by Lauren Helpern showing three rooms in the cabin lighting designer Jeff Davis exhibits the best aspects of what eloquent lighting can do. Through two sets of windows on the outside world, he helps us grasp time and weather and the force of each of four days on the story's progress. It is old-school and very theatrical and keeps the show honest and real. David C. Woolard's appropriate costumes do the same for the characters.
This is a play that I thought I'd skip, but I am so very glad that I saw it. It's the kind of play that makes a difference.
+  03/02/2020  +

How to find these shows:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child can be found at the Lyric Theatre, 214 W. 43 Street. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, on line at HarryPotterOnStage.com or by phone at 877-250-2929.

Tina, The Tina Turner Musical, plays at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 W. 46 Street.  Tickets are available at the box office, through a variety of online ticketing services or by phone at 877-250-2929. 

Harry Townsend's Last Stand plays through April at NY City Center, Stage II, 131 W. 55 Street. Tickets are availab le at the box office or by phone at 212-581-1212.