New York theater is busy in November, as shows open in time for expanded holiday-season audiences. Among the new dramas are David Mamet's China Doll, starring Al Pacino, and Misery, from Stephen King's novel, starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf. The hottest ticket is King Charles III, a British political drama about the current Prince of Wales when he becomes king, written in iambic pentameter in the style of a Shakespeare history play.
Among new Broadway musicals, much-admired veteran George Takei is star andaccording to publicitythe guiding force of Allegiance, about the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, a shameful episode in U.S. history. ( Takei and family were internees. ) When finally permitted to serve in the military, the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry became the most decorated unit in WWII. Allegiance covers all that territory as it follows Sammy Kimura, a young man who becomes a great war hero but cuts himself off from his family over issues of patriotism and loyalty. Indeed, internment camp families DID split over whether Japanese-American men should serve in the armed forces, and whether family members should sign an insidious American loyalty oath. Think of the Civil War when one brother is Union and the other Confederate.
The cast is wonderful, especially Telly Leung as Sammy Kimura, a strikingly handsome young man with a powerful tenor voice. He's the star, although he doesn't receive star billing. That goes to Lea Salonga as his sister and Takei, who plays both Sammy's grandfather and also Sammy as an old man. He doesn't do much singing but he's wise, charming and puckish as grandfather.
Allegiance is tightly constructed and swiftly moving. This is good to a degree, but also means characters, emotions and story points are dropped like rocks with little nuance or subtlety, often in stentorian fashion. The show isn't through-scored, but some points are sung which would work better as spoken dialogue. The music is pleasant but forgettable in Act I, and stronger in Act II as the pace and purpose of the drama increase. The score mostly is contemporary pop-rockish with an occasional nod to 1940s swing, and even less often to the more exotic flavors of traditional Japanese music. A bit more of each, and less pop-rock, would have been better. Still, there are few dry eyes as Allegiance ends, and I don't exclude myself even though I saw the final sentimental twists coming a mile away. Allegiance is at the Longacre Theatre.
For a more traditional musical, An American in Paris is a top pick, a physically gorgeous show with dazzling and ever-changing scenic projections, packed with wonderful George and Ira Gershwin songs. It's inspired by the beloved Oscar-winning film starring Gene Kelly, but with several very notable differences. The setting remains post-World War II Paris, and the American boy artist eventually wins the Parisian girl, but the rocky road to true love is a bit more complicated in this rendition with three rivals for her hand. Also, while Kelly could tap and do athletic modern dance, the dance focus on Broadway is all in the balletic tradition, and stupendously so with captivating leads Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Even the orchestrations provide a twist on the familiar as snatches of the title orchestral tone poem are woven into the other songs, as are a few bars of George Gershwin's challenging piano arrangements of his tunes, which he played in concerts and at parties. An American in Paris is at the Palace Theatre.
Windy City Times readers also might find Peter Parnell's Dada Woof Papa Hot interesting, a world premiere ostensibly about gay parenting but really about a great deal more. The focus is on two very upscale New York married gay couplesRob and Alan, and Scott and Jasonwho have been together 15 and eight years, respectively. Each couple has a young child and they spend much time discussing school lotteries and applications to private kindergartens. The issues that soon emerge have less to do with parenting than with the bedrock complexities of any marriage: fidelity, sharing the love of a child ( "she loves you more than she loves me" ), honesty and personal ambitions/expectations that may change over time.
The play's hero, Alan ( John Benjamin Hickey ), is the oldest of the four men and had less of a gay bachelorhood than the others, which he ruefully regrets. He now questions whether any of them are gay anymore since marriage, parenting and the waning of sexual desire seem to duplicate hetero life. Indeed, the gay relationships are mirrored by straight friends dealing with identical issues. In the end, one couple remains together and one does not, but it's definitely a bittersweet denouement. Dada Woof Papa Hot runs at Lincoln Center Theatre through Jan. 3.
A few blocks south of Lincoln Center, the Manhattan Theatre Club presents the world premiere ( through Dec. 6 ) of David Lindsay-Abaire's Ripcord, an Odd Couple of sorts about women of a certain age who share a room in an assisted living facility. Abby ( Holland Taylor ) is patrician and superior, and has driven away every previous roomie. She meets her match in Marilyn ( Marylouise Burke ), very much an Oscar to Abby's Felix. They spend most of the play trying to frighten each other in a bet to secure the prized bed by the window. Scenes shift to a spooky funhouse, to skydiving ( note the play's title ) and to a faked death.
Fairly predictably, family secrets are revealedas are the loneliness and neediness of both womeneventually drawing them into a bond. David Hyde Pierce is the sure-handed director eliciting entertaining performances from everyone. The play won't win Lindsay-Abaire another prize, but I expect it will be widely seen in regional theaters nationwide. It's rare to find a play with roles for two leading ladies on the far side of middle age, and it's good.