THEATER: Fantasia Barrino Wows, “The Normal Heart” Takes Boston, NPH Makes Magic & More!


Fantastia Barrino Sings, and We Forgive Everything

Last week, the jazz revue After Midnight opened on Broadway to positive reviews, with some of the most enthusiastic notices saved for star Fantasia Barrino.

The AP called Barrino “thrilling.” Vulture said, “Barrino’s vocal abilities are no surprise, but her sense of both fun and hauteur might not have been predicted from her only previous Broadway appearance, as a replacement Celie in The Color Purple. She holds her own even in the company of pros.” And The New York Times described her as “a vampy chanteuse with a naughty smile… [who]… smoothly and intuitively… slid into the vocal persona of a jazz singer.”

Let me go a step further to say that Tasia is the best goddamn thing on Broadway at the moment. Yes, we’ve taken her to task for questionable comments she’s made about queer people in the past. But the past is the past, and if you have an ounce of sense in your brain, you will rush to see After Midnight before her run with the show ends on February 9. Hers is the type of performance that doesn’t come along but two or three times per decade.

Rush tickets are available at the theater when the box office opens. I showed up at 10 a.m. last Tuesday and scored two tickets in the fifth row of the orchestra for $37 each. I’d gladly have paid triple that amount, because Tasia — let alone the rest of the show — is worth it..

 The Normal Heart in Boston

ZSC The Normal Heart 20

Zeitgeist Stage Company, led by out artistic director David Miller, is one of the most reliable small theater companies in Boston. So it’s no surprise that critics loved Miller’s production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, which opened last week.

The Normal Heart tells the story of how a group of gay men and one straight doctor fought systemic injustices in the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York. I spoke to Miller about his production, as well has is personal connection to the story.

“I first read The Normal Heart in the late 80’s and always knew I wanted to direct the show someday,” Miller explained. “It took me two years to secure the rights because a national tour was planned, which never materialized.  And with the HBO film by Ryan Murphy coming out in 2014, it seemed like a perfect time for Zeitgeist to present the show.”

Of the nine actors in the Zeitgeist production, four are gay. “The actors playing Ned and Felix, Victor Shopov and Joey Pelletier, are both gay and friends in real life,” Miller said. “That makes the love scenes more natural and organic to the piece. However, for the straight performers, it’s the humanity of the piece that makes it so easy to play both honestly and effectively.”

Miller, who has been with his husband for 28 years, graduated college in 1979. He saw the AIDS crisis unfold in real time and has first-hand memories of the era that Normal Heart portrays.

“The play captures the fear and ignorance of the early years, when nothing was known,” he said. “In the early 80’s the main “victims” of the disease were the three H’s – homosexuals, hemophiliacs, and Haitians.  A joke from the era was, ‘What’s the hardest thing about telling your parents you have AIDS? Convincing them your Haitian.’”

The Normal Heart runs through November 24 at the Boston Center for the Arts. You can purchase tickets here.


Stage Notes

      • Out star Neil Patrick Harris made his New York stage directorial debut this month. He helmed the two-man magic show Nothing to Hide, which opened to generally positive reviews last week. You can purchase tickets here.
      • Out actor Andy Mientus, who played the ill-fated Kyle Bishop on NBC’s Smash, has landed the role of Marius in the upcoming Broadway revival of Les Miserables. Happy for him, but do we really need annnnother Les Mis? I thought Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway officially murdered it last year.
      • The repertory productions of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Richard III opened this week, and the reviews were excellent. The New York Times singled out star Mark Rylance as “the best I’ve ever seen.” High praise. Get your tickets while you can. Tickets are only on sale through February 1.
      • Theater stars on TV:

– Revolution. NBC. Wednesday. 8/7c. Among the names familiar to Broadway audiences will be David Aaron Baker (The Merchant of Venice), Nicole Ari Parker (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Tony-nominee Željko Ivanek (The Pillowman).

– Law & Order: SVU. NBC. Wednesday 9/8c. In addition to out series regular Raúl Esparza(Company), Tony-winner Laura Benanti (Gypsy) will guest star on this week’s SVU, reprising her role as Det. Amaro’s ex-wife.

– American Horror Story: Coven. FX. Wednesday 10/9c. This season is shaping up to be the gayest, most entertaining yet. Each episode features a host of theater stars casting spells and throwing shade at one another. Among the bold faced names to appear thus far: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Lily Rabe, Dennis O’Hare, Frances Conroy, Christine Ebersole, Sarah Paulson and Patti Goddamn LuPone.

– The Good Wife. CBS. Sunday 9/8c. The Good Wife films in New York, and as a result it often features working theater actors. In addition to the series’ stars—almost all of whom have Broadway credits—this week’s episode will feature America Ferrera (Bethany off-Broadway), Jackie Hoffman (Xanadu) and Tony-nominee Jeremy Shamos (Clybourne Park).

Photos: Showbiz 411, Richard Hall/Silverline Images

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