This Week: A Beautiful NOise, Leopoldstadt, Hannukah on RYe, and more!
It’s the last week of the year! 2022 was an interesting 365 days for me, filled with many transitional periods. I entered January fresh out of a few personal relationships, and the world was finally starting to feel somewhat back to normal after the absolute chaos caused by the pandemic. In May, I graduated college and entered the workforce, all while moving into a new apartment and community.
Professionally too, I’ve been reflecting on the opportunities this site has granted me. Being able to see amazing theater weekly, combing through coming attractions and providing you with recommendations, all of it. One of my 2023 resolutions is to start taking this outlet seriously again and return it to its former glory. Those who have been here for years are aware that the content stream has dried up a bit. In any case, onto the weekly recap.
Sunday was Christmas day, but even more importantly, the last day of Hanukkah. This meant more Chinese food and movies, starting with Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. I was lucky enough to catch the West End stage version of this when I visited London back in October, and I’m glad I did because while the movie does have its moments, it was quite middling. Musicals are a really tough genre to capture, and director Matthew Warchus leans very into the cinematic element here, over-stylizing many of the musical numbers. For example, When I Grow Up, one of the score’s most beautiful tracks, is performed on stage with stunning choreography of the child actors on wooden swings soaring over the heads of the audience in the front row. While a movie makes that impossible to capture in the same way, Warchus overcompensates and storyboards a dream sequence with children as fighter pilots, stunt motorcycle drivers, and more extreme adult jobs. It’s cute but distracts viewers and keeps them from getting fully immersed in Matilda’s world.
The film is still worth watching just for the song Revolting Children alone, which makes for a stellar finale. That number is perfectly executed with incredible dancing from the cutest kids and very clever lyrical wordplay. I also immensely enjoyed Emma Thompson’s performance of the villainous Ms. Trunchabull. She’s comically evil and clearly enjoying playing in the Dahl sandbox. It also breaks the problematic trend of the Broadway show’s tradition of casting a male actor as Trunchabull.
Later that evening, I stopped by a good friend’s engagement party. It was lovely but bittersweet, as he’ll be moving to San Francisco in mere weeks. On the other hand, what a great excuse to visit the west coast!
I also finished the final season of The Good Fight on Paramount+. While I’d usually just throw a sentence review at the bottom of this article for an old release that I happened to binge this week, I want to spend some time dwelling on it because it’s one of the best shows of the year and more generally has consistently been one of the best shows of any year its six seasons have aired in.
The final ten episodes of the series felt like a fever dream. And not in the heightened reality way that the Trump-era plotlines usually exuded. The vague protests, escalating violence around the firm’s office throughout the season, and the consistent screams and noise coming from just outside the lawyers’ windows set a mood like no other show I’ve seen. The Good Fight has had significant cast changes over the years, and it’s tough to wrap a story like that up, so I appreciate their open-ended conclusion. Ending with Trump’s reelection announcement is chilling and pertinent. Our heroes will need to continue to, well, fight the good fight.
The absurdity of this show! I can’t recommend it enough. The commentary was so scathing and if you’re a left-leaning person, I’m sure very cathartic. A leveraged buyout of the Democratic Party is the focal point of the penultimate episode and it’s just nothing short of genius writing. To say nothing of Alan Cumming’s return as Eli Gold! I will miss this series and the version of Chicago law it presented. Christine Baranski — where you lead, I will follow.
Shoutout to the federal government for designating Monday, December 26th as “Christmas Day (observed)” and pressuring my office to remain closed. This meant more time for – you guessed it – movies, most prominently Hanukkah on Rye, this year’s attempt at the token Jew flick to compete with the glut of shoddily thrown-together Christmas movies that dominate the Hallmark Channel throughout the holiday season. It was actually quite decent as far as these things go, no doubt helped by two capable leads in Jeremy Jordan and Yael Grobglas, who can both act and pronounce Hebrew words. The conceit of two opposing deli owners is in the perfect holiday movie zone of kitschy and corny and fun. Like the Christmas movies that inspire it, the love story is rushed and unrealistic while still somehow requiring unnecessary means for the central couple to come together. But you aren’t watching Hanukkah on Rye for the writing. You watch it for the novelty of getting a Hanukkah movie. Add this one to the modern Jewish film canon. Wait, a modern Jewish film canon would actually make for a great 2023 project…
On Monday night I ventured Into the Woods one last time before this production closes on January 8th. The Sondheim masterpiece is my favorite musical, and while I had already seen this staging at City Center in May and the Broadway transfer in July, a primarily new cast made it feel fresh again. Joaquina Kalukango brought the house down as the witch, adding a bit of levity to the role but still belting out the notes in a way that Patina Miller’s rendition was sorely lacking. On the flip side, Stephanie J. Block is now the Baker’s Wife, and I didn’t think she held a candle to Sara Bareilles. Like Kalukango, Block made choices, but they were off-putting and did not fit with the way I think of the character.
I’ve been told this is a hot take, but I truly believe Into the Woods is the thematically richest musical ever created. Every time you see it, you notice new layers. For example, this round, I caught how the verses in ‘No More’ correspond to actions in a father and son relationship. Another small detail is that after Rapunzel is crushed, the Witch sings, “how could I have shielded you from her,” referring to the lady giant that killed Rapunzel, and then turns to the rest of the huddled characters and finishes with “or them,” revisiting the motif of protecting her daughter from the corruption that she warns of earlier in ‘Stay With Me: “Someone has to shield you from the world… Princes wait there in the world, it’s true. Princes, yes, but wolves and humans too…” There were several more moments that just clicked for me; it’s truly a play that rewards repeat viewings.
Even the simplest throwaway lines are so immaculately written. “Look at the blood within the shoe / This one is not the bride that’s true” has been stuck in my head for the last couple of days. Also, the crowd went crazy for Joshua Henry. It’s great to see that guy finally getting his due. I’d honestly love to catch it again before closing, but as the ensemble sings in the finale, “wishes come true, not free.”
In an effort to see every Broadway show of the ’22-’23 season, I headed to A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical on Tuesday night. The autobiographical tale was not very good, but I did find a lot to like in the second act. Because Diamond is still alive and actively involved in this product, it is more self-reflective and personal than other comparable jukebox musicals. The angle here is that present, old Neil is in therapy and using his old songs to remember what life was like when he wrote each of them. It’s a sweet idea that is bogged down by a poor book and a muted lead performance from Will Swenson. The show shines brightest when it is guttingly introspective, like when Diamond expresses that he blames himself for both of his divorces or the revelation that his anxiety could stem from his Jewish immigrant family’s generational trauma.
Song-wise, if you’re a fan of Diamond’s catalog, I’d imagine this is the show for you. Personally, I was pleased to discover I knew more than just Sweet Caroline! America and I’m a Believer were both performed in the show, which was loads of fun.
After taking it easy on Wednesday, on Thursday, I saw yet another Broadway show in Leopoldstadt. This was one of my most anticipated shows of the season, which is why it was so disappointing when Tom Stoppard’s latest work did not live up to the hype. Leopoldstadt follows several generations of a Jewish Viennese family from 1899 into the 1950s, which, needless to say, must include the Anschluss and Holocaust that followed. With regards to the story itself, I found (and this seems to be a widespread criticism of the play) it very difficult to keep track of who was who, who was related to who, and who was an older version of a family member we had already met. The commentary the show has to offer is strong but not pointed enough to be revelatory. Jews who had assimilated thought they were safe from the Nazis and antisemitism, but of course, they were slaughtered like the rest of their brothers and sisters that they had abandoned. As someone whose Jewish identity already means a great deal to them, this was not profound information, but I do hope that many wandering into this play will leave with a lot to think about.
I definitely didn’t hate Leopoldstadt and, in fact, would probably recommend that most people buy a ticket. There were a few very chilling moments, and I felt as if I was watching ghosts on stage — my ancestors that did not make it. The Passover seder scene, the conversations about Theodore Herzl, and the projections of pictures of old-world Jewry hit hard.
These weekly roundups are usually composed on Monday, but this one is the exception as I’m drafting it on a Friday afternoon. That being the case, I’m not exactly sure how the week will end. On New Year’s Eve, a friend is coming over to watch some TV and order pizza, and we’re both invited to a game night a few blocks away. Should be fun. Until next time, this is Elazar signing off and once again thanking you for reading. Time to go work on those new year’s resolutions.
Other things I watched this week:
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Can’t believe it was my first time watching this! An instant new favorite musical and will definitely be saving a bunch of the songs on Spotify.
Smile – Was too scared to watch this in theaters so instead I saw it on my couch in broad daylight. Very strong horror movie, I liked it a lot.
Newsies – The proshot of the Broadway version, not the original 1992 film, although I’d love to rewatch that soon. I had forgotten much of this but dang is it good. And their New York accents are just too good!
Encanto at the Hollywood Bowl – The production value of this concert special was stunning. The actual cast all getting together in a recreation of the animated film’s set and wearing their characters’ costumes was so fun and of course the songs all slap.
Kaleidoscope – A gimmicky new Netflix series. My full review will be up tomorrow.
Paul T. Goldman – An indescribable new Peacock series that I watched all but the finale of. A detailed review should be up in the next day or two.