Today was Wednesday, matinee day on Broadway. My shows today underlined the range of what is available now on Broadway – a first-rate revival of Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in America and a so-so new musical adaptation of Tina Fey’s high school anti-bullying comedy movie, Mean Girls.
Subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” Angels in America first arrived on Broadway in 1993, winning the Pulitzer Prize and back-to-back Best Play Tony Awards for its two parts. It is an overwhelming, searing look at Reagan-era America, in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, surely the most significant work for the theater in the past half-century.
The current revival is a transfer from London, directed by the brilliant Marianne Elliott (War Horse, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). The play has lost none of its gut-wrenching impact over time, and here it is enhanced by the star power of Nathan Lane as self-loathing HIV-positive lawyer Roy Cohn – the Michael Cohen of his time – and Andrew Garfield as fictional Prior Walter, a similarly afflicted gay man whose partner deserts him as the disease progresses.
At a time when plays began shrinking in size and ideas to be produced, Kushner allowed himself to write on a massive scale and the audacity pays great dividends.
Tina Fey, on the other hand, goes along with the lowest common denominator trend of taking a popular movie – her own from 2004 – inserting some songs and relying on the target audience’s nostalgia for the source material. The audience is the Wicked, Legally Blonde crowd, which Mean Girls seems to have attracted, all but guaranteeing a long, lucrative run.
Fey adds some savvy new jokes to her script, her husband Jeff Richmond pens an OK score, Casey Nicholaw injects high energy with his direction and choreography and the young cast delivers the material with undeniable verve. It’s just not top-drawer material, however.
Hap Erstein is in New York for his annual tour of Broadway shows for ArtsPaper. Follow his tweets @SirHapster.