Random thoughts about watching, working and living in the arts, from HMS co-founder and executive producer Scott Silberstein. "In The Moment" offers a quick 60-second read about new ideas, events, shows and productions in the HMS world, and "Adventures In Yes" takes a deeper dive into how art and media reflect, define and inspire our world. Enjoy!

May 17, 2018

IN THE MOMENT: "The Plays That Go Right"

"The Play That Goes Wrong," "Carousel" and "Beast in the Jungle" make for one heck of a transformative triple-header

Renée Fleming & Jessie Mueller in "Carousel." photo by Juliana Cervantes

One of the best perks receive if you attend the Broadway League's spring road conference is free tickets to shows. It's fantastic opportunity to catch up on shows I haven't seen yet, and because HMS has alreadys shot much of what's playing here, I've been able to go see things here that I might never see anywhere else, at least not like this. Over the last 27 or so hours, I’ve seen some miraculous stuff.

I don’t know if The Play That Goes Wrong will tour or not, in the midst of an intense week, and living in an intense world, it was a blessing to sit grinning ear to ear in front of a finely-tuned, door-slamming slapstick farce like tihs. One of art's great functions that we often overlook and undervalue is its ability to fill our lives with sheer joy, invite us to laugh at our own frailties and revel in a feeling of “there but for the grace of God go we,” literally shaking with laughter along the way. Shows like this go a long way to make life feel more worth living.

Carousel is a different animal entirely, one of the moodier and more beautiful musicals ever conceived, and, like many classic musicals from days of yore, not without its #MeToo dilemmas. Physical abuse is a running theme in this show, and that had me (and many others) worried at first. But I had a feeling I could trust this production. When you put yourself in the hands of Jessie Mueller, Renee Fleming, Joshua Henry and the rest of this stellar cast, after they have put themselves into the hands of director Jack O'Brien and a producing team led by Scott Rudin, chances are you're going to be able to swim safely in the complexity of the story in front of you. It's not possible to fully know the intentions of those who originally brought these stories to life, but it is possible for contemporary artists to breathe every bit of 2018 into them and see what truths they reveal. “Carousel” did that for me. Jessie Mueller is as honest and present an artist as I’ve ever seen, and that takes genuine commitment (which she has) and a truly good soul (which she is). This is fascinating and tricky time to do this show and play this role (and, come to think of it, an equally fascinating follow-up for Jessie to "Waitress," in which she also played someone neglected and abused, albeit one with more hopes and options than Julie Jordan ever had). Jessie has discovered for us a Julie Jordan that I don’t think many other artists would know to look for, and it was revelatory to behold. And Renée Fleming, her co-star here (and in HMS' PBS special Chicago Voices) could have simply leaned on her vocal prowess and innate charm to blow the house away, but instead offered a deeply thoughtful, lovely and intimate approach to the role of Nettie. I wasn’t sure anyone could still bring tears to my eyes with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – it’s too much a cliché, right? Nope, not when Renée infuses it with this much sadness, love, empathy, acceptance, experience, pain and hope. Much as when Kate Baldwin sang "New York, New York" in First You Dream, HMS' PBS tribute to Kander & Ebb, Renée invites listeners to discover this song we all thought we knew (and many have therefore dismissed), and her discoveries, and ours, are rich with new understandings.

Speaking of John Kander, about whom I've blogged before and whose impact on my life can't possibly be overstated, he's about to open one of his most daring shows yet. Beast In The Jungle, even though it is teeming with some of the finest and most visionary talent Broadway has ever seen, isn't part of the Broadway landscape, so I ventured on my own to grab a ticket to see a preview at the wonderful Vineyard Theatre. Before the show, John cautioned me that this one was "strange," which meant to me that John was stretching himself even further than he has before (and that's saying something, given his ongoing quest to explore the gorgeously dark places in all of our lives and open the blinds to shine a bit of light on them -- but not too much). Beast, directed and choreographed by the amazing Susan Stroman, is a swirl of dance and theater, beautifully and gently submerging us into those dark subterranean caves where our most primal and personal fears lurk, and reminding us that unless we forgive and heal ourselves, they will stop us from leading the most "alive" life we can. It's both frighteningly cautionary and imploringly hopeful. Broadway doesn't put this kind of daring work on its stages very often anymore, and that's a shame; but it makes it all the more thrilling to venture into intimate spaces like The Vineyard and emerge, in the words of Lookingglass Theatre Company, "changed, charged and empowered."

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