As a condition for his being part of the trip, my dad made sure one of the shows we saw was Jersey Boys, so that was first.
As my brother and I grew up listening to our parents' oldies music on car trips, which we did a lot of, I was quite familiar with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The show, which won numerous Tony Awards in 2006 including Best Musical, was quite alive from start to finish with the songs used to help tell the story as opposed to being the story, as most jukebox musicals are.
I liked its use of the Rashomon effect, where each member of the Four Seasons told their version of how the group got together, when they started hitting it big, the group falling apart, and Frankie's struggles to balance home life with his rising career. It made for effective story-telling and all around fun throughout.
Quick note, we ended up seeing the film version after we got back from New York. We found the film didn't add much to the story, nor did we think it was anywhere near as good as the show itself. Furthermore, I felt the movie moved very slow whereas the musical moved at just the right pace.
When we were trying to figure out what the third show was going to be months prior to the trip, my mom suddenly marched up to me one evening and demanded, "Why didn't you tell me there was a musical about Carole King?" And thus, the next show we saw was Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Again, familiarity with oldies music meant I knew of Carole King. I just didn't know all of the songs she wrote before breaking out as a solo artist, so I was quite surprised to discover what she helped composed. The show starred Jessie Mueller, whose performance as King won her the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. And what a performance it was to see live, not just in her ability to nail King's distinctive voice, but also playing her with truth and believability.
As mentioned, I was not as familiar with the knowledge of which songs she wrote in the fifties and sixties such as "Take Good Care of My Baby" and "The Loco-Motion", the latter being sung by her babysitter as a matter of fact. The show also covered the rivalry and friendship King and her husband Gerry Goffin had with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the latter duo responsible for such hits as "On Broadway" and "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling". Once again, we were treated to another really great show that was oodles of fun.
It was the evening of July 4th when we saw our last of three shows and was the whole reason for the conception of the New York trip in the first place, aka my pick. Instead of seeing fireworks go off in the sky, we saw fireworks exploding on stage with If/Then.
Obviously the main reason any one, myself included, would want to see this is because it starred Idina Menzel. In reading up, Menzel hardly ever performed on stage outside of New York except for try-outs and very special occasions. So it was clear to me that if I ever wanted to see her acting on stage, I needed to head to New York. It was so worth the trip.
(Note: I didn't wear this shirt to the show, I was wearing the Bolt shirt I wore for Beautiful.)
If/Then follows Elizabeth, newly divorced and returning to New York after 12 years in Phoenix. Her friends suggest a name change and a direction for her fresh start in life, but is unsure of which path to take. From there the show jumps back and forth between her life as Liz, engaging in personal experiences, and as Beth, building up the career she's always wanted.
I have no problem with Jessie Mueller winning the Tony for Beautiful, but boy watching Idina perform is an experience. Easily the best performer of the weekend, even when she had a brief series of coughs causing the show to pause ("Every performer's nightmare," she sheepishly commented before drinking some water and starting again), she recovered and actually got better. And when she sang "Always Starting Over", she absolutely killed it. Anthony Rapp was unable to perform (I would later learn because he had torn his ACL and would be out for several weeks), but it was nonetheless a fantastic show.
Now came the intriguing part. I decided to give the whole stage door experience a shot, see if I couldn't get an autograph from someone. And I shot the stars and went for Idina. Before leaving for New York, I made sure to get whatever advice I could about how I could make it work in my favor. What helped was that our hotel, The Paramount, was literally across the street from the theater If/Then was playing at, so I was able to scope the night before just how bad the crowding would get.
And you know what? All that planning worked.
The crowd on July 4th was worse than the night before as we were spilling onto the streets and then some. I made it to where I was behind and in the middle of two folks who were up against the guardrail. In addition to Idina, who obviously came out last, I managed to get my program autographed by co-stars James Snyder, Jenn Colella, Jason Tam, and Rynn Redmond. The crazy part was right after I had gotten Idina's autograph everyone behind me decided to shove up against me, pinning me to the poor folks in front of me for about a minute or two. Nonetheless, it was a fun little experience since I got to interact with other fans and we got to chat here and there with the actors when we could.
So there you go. If you're ever in New York over the next few months, I highly recommend checking out these three shows. All were absolutely fantastic in their own way and were just incredibly fun. It's really hard to pick out a favorite from my end, though I think in terms of overall experience I really enjoyed If/Then, not just because I got Idina's autograph, but also because we had the best seats we could hope for in seeing the show. Not to say the other two had bad seats, that had great seats too. But If/Then had the best because it was positioned just right.