The American Spirit Shown Through Story and Song
Throughout its illustrious history, the Broadway stage has been home to some of the greatest American stories ever told. From the hopeful optimism of Rodgers & Hammerstein to the incisive and sometimes biting eye of Arthur Miller, dramatic plays and fanciful musicals have long showcased stories as diverse and varied as the United States itself. This month, in honor of the Fourth of July, we highlight works of theatre that celebrate the highs of the American dream as well as ones that examine its sometimes darker underbelly.
The new musical Bandstand pays tribute to the brave Americans who served our country during the Second World War, highlighting their victories and honoring their sacrifices. Broadway favorites Laura Osnes (Cinderella, Grease) and Corey Cott (Newsies, Gigi) take the stage in the swinging and inspirational new musical.
Bandstand is the courageous story of two individuals whose lives are forever altered by their shared history through the healing power of music. At the end of the WWII, veteran and singer/songwriter Donny Novitski joins forces with the jazz singing war widow Julia in a chance at Hollywood fame after the two enter a songwriting contest. As they come together in the pursuit of building a life after the war, the two grapple with the lingering effects of trauma and heartbreak from the battlefield. Bandstand bravely and importantly honors our service men and women with its frank portrayal of the sometimes debilitating after effects of war. With thrilling dance numbers and touching performances from its leads, the musical is a testament to the human spirit and heroism of a generation whose sacrifice defined a nation. (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St.)
Inspired by George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel of the same name, a new stage adaptation of 1984 offers a look at an imagined future where an authoritarian regime has taken hold. In the wake of a divisive political season, the classic text takes on new meaning as it questions the nature of power, corruption, and free will.
1984 tells the story of everyman Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting newspaper articles from the past so that history reflects positively on the ruling party, thereby ensuring their continued rule. His world is thrown into disarray when he falls in love with a woman named Julia who shares his distrust of the state. This disturbing and urgent new stage adaptation by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan transfers to Broadway after a smash run on London’s West End. Film star Olivia Wilde makes her Broadway debut with her fearless portrayal of Julia and is joined by Tom Sturridge as Winston. (Hudson Theatre, 139 W. 44th St.)
Waitress offers a look at the American Dream from a different angle with its story of rediscovering dreams long-forgotten in the face of regret and hope deferred. With original music and lyrics by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles and directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin), Waitress quickly became an audience favorite after it opened on Broadway last year.
The delightful and inspiring musical is based on the celebrated 1997 indie lm of the same name. Baked into the center of the touching story is Jenna, a small-town waitress stifled by a loveless marriage and small-town life. When an opportunity arises to channel her passion for pie-making into a new beginning, she must choose between her dreams and the responsibilities of adulthood. An unexpected love affair complicates the situation as she bakes her way to a better life. Composer Sara Bareilles currently stars as Jenna before Broadway star Betsy Wolf takes over the role in July with her powerful vocals and endless charisma. Diane Paulus, an American success story herself, recently featured in Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, directs this new musical. (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.)
The new musical War Paint highlights the American entrepreneurial spirit with the story behind two of the most successful businesswomen in history and their never ending competition for success. Theatre legends Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole are pitted against each other in the story of the true-life rivalry between cosmetic moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, whose revolutionary spirit forever changed the face of the beauty industry. As wildly creative as they were fiercely competitive, both women were true pioneers in their field with careers spanning over 50 years.
War Paint is at its core an exemplification of two women who triumphantly blazed trails in a business world dominated by men. The musical offers an inside view into the alluring locales that served as backdrops for these women’s lives, from the glamorous heights of Fifth Avenue society to the congressional halls of Washington, D.C. Michael Greif directs this dazzling production, which features an all-new score from Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, the acclaimed musical writing team behind Grey Gardens and Far From Heaven. (Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.)