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December 11, 2015


I’m ashamed to admit it, but an inordinate number of years had to pass before I realized one salient fact about Broadway.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the time when getting tickets is by far the most difficult.

I had to learn the hard way. In 1969, I drove into town on the afternoon of Dec. 31, fully expecting to buy tickets for the Wednesday matinee of the newly opened COCO.

I wound up at JIMMY.

Things haven’t changed since then. Getting a Dec. 25-Jan. 1 ticket to a Broadway show is still difficult – and, of course, more expensive. I paid $3.25 for my rear mezz seat to JIMMY – and Lord knows what I would have paid that night, which was New Year’s Eve. In those days, much more was charged for that performance.

(Today ALL eight performances during Christmas WEEK have inflated prices. And need I add there are no $3.25 seats?)

So those who are coming to town must be prepared to be denied Broadway’s Biggest or even Middling Hits. You may be able to get into DAMES AT SEA, HAND TO GOD, SYLVIA and THE GIN GAME – all of which I’d heartily recommend – but even those won’t be slam-dunks, for they’re all approaching their closing performances, when people who have tarried get on the ball. See them while you can – IF you can.

You probably won’t be able to get a seat for CHINA DOLL until the second act. My advice is to stand outside the Schoenfeld an hour after the show begins and look for people who are exiting with coats on their backs and scowls on their faces. Surely you’ll be able to work out some easy terms to buy their tickets and see Act Two.

It’s actually the better of the two halves. The play’s not good, but it does give Pacino one of the most demanding roles of his career. That he can do it at this advanced time in his life is wondrous. My respect for him, which has been high since I saw him do AWAKE AND SING with Jill Clayburgh (another then-unknown) in a 1967 local Boston production, has grown even greater as a result of his willingness to tackle this terribly demanding role.

By and large, though, you’ll probably have better luck securing seats to an off-Broadway show -- although you won’t be able to buy your way into LAZARUS at New York Theatre Workshop. With such big names as David Bowie, Enda (ONCE) Walsh and Ivo van Hove, tickets were snapped up super-quickly.

Count your blessings instead of sheep. LAZARUS is an enormous and incomprehensible mess that offers no entertainment value whatsoever. That the always self-conscious and aren’t-I-magnificent Michael Esper and Cristin Milioti are on the scene makes matters worse. But if you already have tickets, you’ll be mighty impressed by Sophia Anne Caruso as a teen observer with a galvanizing voice and presence.

Peter Parnell’s DADA WOOF PAPA HOT at the Newhouse (through Jan. 3) is extraordinarily good. Two gay married couples with children -- Rob (Patrick Breen) and Alan (John Benjamin Hickey); Scott (Stephen Plunkett) and Jason (Alex Hurt) – trade notes on child-rearing (and may come to trade more than that).

At first, the Newhouse seems the wrong house for the play, which could have used an old house with a proscenium – for at a dinner table for four, two characters have their backs to much of the house. Luckily, there are many other locations, which John Lee Beatty has designed brilliantly, making the stage floor into a veritable jigsaw puzzle. Beatty is getting more clever as the years go by, and may well receive his fourth Drama Desk Award for this one.

Parnell could be awarded, too. He gets in all the details that prove when you have a child, you’re working for someone else. Now your study is the child’s room. Now you know the plot of THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR as well as you know ALL ABOUT EVE. You and your spouse no longer take vacations because of the kid. You sit on children’s chairs when you’re in their rooms. You get sick more often because you catch what they have. You may be in a conversation with someone, but you interrupt yourself and yell when you see in the distance that your child isn’t behaving as you’d have him do. You make enemies of other parents because your kid hurt theirs. Sleeping late is long over. And of course there are those getting-into-the-best-school issues.

In short (and the play runs 100 intermissionless minutes), any gay couples that attend DADA WOOF PAPA HOT may think thrice before having that kid who sounds so adorably lovely in theory.

Another family drama -- HIR at Playwrights Horizons (through Jan. 3) – is the ugliest play of the season, mostly because it tells the truth, too. How many wives throughout history would have loved to rebel against their oppressive husbands but didn’t or couldn’t? Taylor Mac’s wild play has Paige take full advantage of hubby’s stroke to feminize him with dresses and infantilize him with diapers.

Has there ever been a more degrading role for an actor? Daniel Oreskes must need work VERY badly to allow himself to be seen in clownish make-up and naked from the waist down with nappy displayed.

The family now has a transgender son, as Paige tells her other son, who’s been recently dishonorably discharged. The discussion is so heated that the arrival of Max (née Maxine) is the most anticipated since Fosca walked down the long (and obscured) staircase in PASSION.

Bless able director Niegel Smith for getting The Real Thing. Tom Phelan will make those unfamiliar with his own transgender background emerge from the theater saying “Wasn’t that young man terrific?” Phelan doesn’t give a hint of his original plumbing and delivers a truly original performance – complaining that Noah was “transphobic” for only taking male and female animals on the ark.

When a black comedy has a wife this weird, the call goes out to Kristine Nielsen. Plays as peculiar as this one, which now represent the off-Broadway norm, have provided Nielsen with a career.

I’m not questioning Nielsen’s real-life sanity; I’ve interviewed her and found her as normal as Nellie Forbush’s blueberry pie. But as long as playwrights create characters that are crazier than Leviticus, Nielsen will have opportunity after opportunity to deliver the distended mouth, the mincing little girl steps accompanied with her hands fluttering in the air – as if all’s right with the world, despite the unmistakable chaos around her.

Then deep in the play Mac asks Nielsen to drop her usual persona and come down to brass tacks – which she winds up metaphorically pulling out of the floor with her teeth. What a revelation it is to see how angry and uncompromising Nielsen can play when she must.

By the way, in one respect, HIR resembles Neil Simon’s THE ODD COUPLE and THE STAR-SPANGLED GIRL. Attend the tale and then see if you can guess what I’m talking about – if, of course, you can get a seat.

If emasculated or transgendered men aren’t for you, try REAL MEN (running through Jan. 2). Here’s a musical revue that says “If I LOVE YOU! YOU’RE PERFECT! NOW CHANGE! can make it, so can I.”

Of course misogyny is a part of it. The musical suggests that if you can’t get a Stepford Wife, try a puppet. What’s most regrettable is a song that says a man must listen to women’s chatter even if he doesn’t give a damn about what she’s saying. True, the ending ameliorates this message, but not to the point where it justifies the song.

Subsequent sentiments such as “How much will it cost to have the bitch killed?” don’t help either. But shouldn’t a song that claims “I used to have a penis but now I’m married” use “balls” as its noun?

Some ideas are on target, such as one that deals with a new husband whose wife was married before and has brought her children along. Later an empty nester’s sentimental song turns out to have a big but honest surprise. There’s a rhyme for “Dietrich” that outclasses what Lorenz Hart wrote in “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” Add to this a good joke about the ballet and another involving a kidney stone.

No, REAL MEN isn’t as smart as the average Julius Monk revue of the ‘50s and ‘60s. The cast of three includes Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria, who co-wrote the show, and Stephen G. Anthony, who didn’t. They’re all genial enough, but no awards committee need be notified.

If you find the city a little too crowded, The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey isn’t hard to reach. There A CHRISTMAS STORY is having a top-notch Broadway-level revival (through Jan. 3).

Although a musical about a kid wanting a gun may seem insensitive considering what’s been going on in the real world, we must remember that Little Ralphie Parker doesn’t want the BB-gun to CREATE mischief, but to PREVENT it – even to the point of defending a teacher who doesn’t appreciate his English compositions.

That leads to the score’s best song, “Ralphie to the Rescue,” which co-authors Benj Pasek and Justin Paul gave the right Western touch to the point where you also can feel the wind come sweepin’ down the plain.

My favorite non-musical moment? A tie between two. First, after Ralphie and his younger brother Randy get into yet another verbal fight (“Did, too!” is the response to “Did, not!” repeated at least a dozen times), Ralphie in a separate incident gets in terrible trouble with his parents – causing Randy to cry and moan “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!” Yes, he loves his brother after all.

The other wonderful moment, of course, comes when Ralphie gets precisely what he’d wanted for Christmas. The audience enthusiastically applauded along with me, for no matter how old you are, you still remember when you desperately wanted Some Certain Toy as a holiday present and – wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles -- got it.

And if you can’t get to New Jersey, let alone New York?
Well, maybe there’s a production of A CHRISTMAS STORY near you. If so, make sure you attend. It’s one of the best holiday presents you can give yourself.

         — Peter Filichia



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