A Serious Play, a Pop Musical, and What We Expect When We Go to the Theatre

When I moved to New York, I excited and eager to really take the chance to dive into the world of theater. I had been a part of the drama club when I was in high school and loved it, but couldn’t find the time to keep up with it in college, and was always too #broke to go to shows. I’m now officially a year out of college (which is crazy to think about), and nearly a year in New York, and while I haven’t necessarily immersed myself in the theater world like I thought I would, I still have managed to see and read a good amount of shows. This month alone, I was able to see two, albeit completely different, shows.

Sitting at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre to see Waitress

At the beginning of the month, I saw the musical Waitress, starring Katherine McPhee in her Broadway debut. It’s a fun, poppy musical based on the 2007 movie with music by Sarah Bareilles currently running on Broadway. I saw it with my family when they were in town to visit, and I found myself surprised by how big of an emotional punch this show managed to pack in its 2 hours and 30 minutes. As I joked with my friends the day after, I was not prepared to cry at this show. The song “She Used to Be Mine”, the emotional climax of the story, really let this airy, comical show come back down and prove it’s worth. My mom and I were sitting next to each other in the theater, and we looked at each other in surprise at the end of the show as we tried to wipe our tears away.

In contrast, at the end of the month I impulsively bought tickets to see BAM’s production of A Long Day’s Journey into Night, starring Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville. The show, written by the Great American Playwright Himself Eugene O’Neill, is one of the classics of theater. I had somehow gone this long in my life having no idea what it was about and never seeing or reading it. I knew it was considered a great classic, and had a great cast, so when I saw that there were some cheap single tickets still available I jumped at the chance.

My seats for A Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
This is what you get for bargain tickets

I went in knowing that it was going to be a long show (three and a half hours), and I thought I was ready. I was wrong. You really felt every one of those minutes tick by, and by the intermission I was considering going to the bar in the lobby and seeing if they had coffee. I could tell that the play itself was great, constantly pairing the Tyrone family off in different sets of two to explore how they frustrate, infuriate, and love one another. But I found almost every acting choice to be completely bewildering. Jeremy Irons gives up on his American accent almost immediately, and the men who play Edmund and James Jr. are doing two totally different American accents. Edmund was the most believably American (I was surprised to find out after that the actor Matthew Beard is British), but Rory Keenan (James Jr.) sounded like a Bronx cop in a 70s movie. I went into the show very excited to see a high quality performance and left feeling bored. I was listening to the other audience members as we all filed out, judging from what I heard they felt the same.

What’s most interesting in seeing both of these shows in a short span of time is that my expectations for shows has changed completely. Both of these shows deal very seriously with the themes of family, motherhood, and responsibility, but they do it in completely different ways. The one that is considered to be one of the Great American Plays lost itself in the execution and turned into a pile of nothing, while the sugar-pop musical carried more emotional weight and inspired more introspection. Was Waitress perfect? No. Katherine McPhee suffers from a case of the mumbles when she sings sometimes, which is absolutely a product of her pop-music training as opposed to that of a Broadway singer. But it didn’t hinder the show as much as the combination confusion and apathy caused by the missteps from Long Day’s Journey. I absolutely want to see more shows this summer, and I’ve already got my eye on a few shows, but from this month I’ve learned to not just go for the shows that feel “serious” or “high art”. Sometimes, a show about a pregnant waitress with a pie obsession is just what you need.What’s the last show you saw? How do you pick if you want to see a show/play or not? Tell me in the comments below!



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