Merrily, Corruption & Ibsen

I spent last weekend in NYC and, shocking as it may seem, even Billy Masters sometimes has to pay for it.  It’s true, I’ve spent more money on Jonathan Groff than I have on most exes.  But that’s what you do to secure a ticket for the acclaimed Broadway revival of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along.  The musical’s backward chronology has always been problematic.  You meet the characters at a point where they have achieved some success at great personal loss, and then you go back in time to see them as young idealistic kids filled with hopes and dreams.  Having a cast that embodies youthful exuberance and world-weary dissolution helps.  Groff is as lost here as he was in Spring Awakening.  But the boy has become a man – by, ironically, playing a boy.  While he’s gotten the lion’s share of praise by critics, one can’t underestimate the work of Daniel Radcliffe and his fearless enthusiasm and boundless talent (to say nothing of the twinkle in his eye).  If Lindsay Mendez doesn’t have a standout musical moment, her strong presence permeates the show.  A lesser actress could kill the alchemy of this trio.  This may be the best company assembled for a problematic show.  And that alone makes it a must-see – even at these prices.


Meanwhile at Lincoln Center, the play Corruption dramatizes the British hacking scandal of 2011 that threatened to bring down the Rupert Murdoch empire (as if).  The play by J.T. Rogers is dense and a tad overly ambitious.  I wondered if people who didn’t follow the story when it happened would be able to follow the many twists and turns.  It is almost like a stage documentary – and that’s not a bad thing.  In a time when we are fed a steady diet of real crime dramas on television, this play serves to not only entertain but enlighten.  There is nary a weak link in the large cast, and the production is compelling (and, my God, the stagehands should be paid extra).  Halfway through the taut second act, a few chilling points are made.  First, the “bad guys” aren’t all bad and the “good guys” make some bad decisions.  And, despite protestations to the contrary, the public likes tabloid journalism.  Without it, hard-hitting journalism cannot survive.  A somewhat cynical viewpoint, but perhaps one not so far off the mark.


The point of my trip was to see Charles Busch’s latest oeuvre at Primary StagesIbsen’s Ghost focuses on the days following the death of Henrik Ibsen (who is currently represented on Broadway in an acclaimed revival of An Enemy of the People).  Subtitled “an irresponsible biographical fantasy”, Busch stars as Suzannah, the Widow Ibsen, who is as fetching and salty as a piping hot plate of kippers.  Suzie is quite concerned about securing herself a place in history rather than just a footnote.  While a healthy knowledge of the Norwegian playwright is helpful, it is not a prerequisite.  This is a loving homage to Ibsen through Busch’s elevated and elegant lens.  Frequent collaborators populate the proceedings – including the scene-stealing Jen Cody, the always-effective Jennifer Van Dyck, the still-hunky Thomas Gibson, the versatile Christopher Borg, and the legendary Judy Kaye.  The stylish costumes and wigs, effective lighting, tasteful set design, and appropriate interstitial music are all under the effortless direction of Carl Andress.  But if it isn’t on the page, it isn’t on the stage.  As usual, Busch delivers.

To catch either of these off-Broadway plays, you must be fleet of foot.  They both close on April 14th.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Copying content from is prohibited