Leonard Armstrong

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Broadway

Broadway

My wife and I love theater. We're fortunate enough to see 5-10 shows each year, mostly in New York city's Broadway district. As of this writing we have tickets to two upcoming shows: Hamilton in early April and Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler as Dolly Levi later in May.

Here is a list of my top five shows, subject to my current mood and whims.


The Producers

#5 - The Producers

Nathan Lane at his prime. Matthew Broderick playing the same kind of nebbish character he seems to play a lot these days. (How did he ever pull off Ferris Bueller?) And story, jokes and music by the legendary Mel Brooks.

Broadway's first run of The Producers  was an overall great theater experience. The audience was thrilled to be part of the event. Mel Brooks was back to his creative prime. It was fun, funny and throughly enjoyable. And in 2001 it won 12 Tony Awards out of 15 nominations.


Les Miserables

#4 - Les Miserables

Some may think my #4 choice is hackneyed. A lot of people now think Les Miserables is over-produced and trite. However when Les Miz first came to the US from London in 1987 it was a widely sought-after ticket. Les Miz's original Broadway run lasted for 6,680 performances spanning 16 years. 

I saw Les Miz in Philadelphia when it was on tour shortly after winning 8 awards at the 1987 Tony Awards. It was one of the first professionally produced shows I had ever seen. I was rapt by the all-singing, no-spoken-words format; the turntable stage; the huge junk pile set that was able to morph into multiple essential elements; the moody lighting that provided sets for a sewer and a running river; and the music that is still used today to showcase voice talent on many Star Search style shows.

Les Miz left me in awe and I won't turn my back on the mark it left on me.


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#3 Hand to God

It was almost an accident that I saw Hand to God. In the summer of 2016 Jim Parsons was coming to Broadway to star in Act of God. Around the same time I saw a Broadway advertisement for a show called Hand to God which had a puppet on the poster. My first thought was "Jim Parsons and puppets! What a combo!!" Well, I was wrong. They were two different shows with the word "God" in the title. When it came time to buy tickets I had to make a choice: Parsons or puppets. I chose puppets. And that was before our 45th President uttered those now-famous words "No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet!" in his final 2016 Presidential debate.

Hand to God is a unique show and it is a riot. The plot's elevator pitch could be The Exorcist meets The Muppets. The main character is an introverted high schooler whose Christian ministry puppet becomes possessed and takes over. Look at the image and you'll get a sense of the demonic Exorcist-like mania. The show's humor pushes the bounds of good taste at times. Nevertheless it is one of my favorites.

Interestingly my #3 choice incorporates elements of my #2 (puppets) and my #1 (an introverted high schooler). Perhaps that says something about me.


#2 Avenue Q

More puppets. Lots of puppets. A whole street full of puppets intermingling with humans. Wait a second. Isn't there already a famous street where puppets and humans co-exist?

In a way Avenue Q is an R-rate send-up of Sesame Street. Unlike Sesame Street the puppeteers can be seen front-and-center, operating their puppets in full, open-mouthed voice, emoting equally through their felt counterparts and through their own human facial expressions and body language. The Avenue Q cast are simultaneously stage actors and puppeteers. 

And with songs like The Internet is for Porn, What Can You Do With a BA in English? and Everyone's a Little Bit Racist, Avenue Q takes human/puppet interaction to a place never dreamed about on Sesame Street.

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#1 Dear Evan Hanson

One of the most recent shows I've seen, Dear Evan Hansen is a musical about a teen who suffers from Asberger syndrome. A misunderstanding destroys his social invisibility and places him into the spotlight as a hero. The show has a small but talented cast and it's music is catchy.

As of this writing a lot of people have never heard about Dear Evan Hanson. But if you are looking to see something excellent and non-cliché on a trip to New York, treat yourself to tickets to Dear Evan Hansen. My wife and I both predict big things for Dear Evan Hanson and its star, Ben Platt, at the 2017 Tony Awards. 

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