Seen in Central Park: When the musicalized Two Gentlemen of Verona first debuted in 1971 via the Public Theater, it soon transferred to Broadway, winning the Tony for Best Musical. If there is any off-Broadway show that deserves a Broadway transfer, it is the revival of Two Gentlemen playing at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. With one notable exception the cast is stellar and while the music may be a bit early-70s dated, it still kicks. Kathleen Marshall’s deft direction keeps the action flowing nicely in, on, around, and under Riccardo Henandez’s two-tiered, industrial setting that serves the story quite well. The lighting by Peter Kaczorowski is top notch and the costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are fun and easily mix traditional Shakespearean garb with a modern-day hippie look that supplies an added does of pizzazz. The sound design by Acme Sound Partners was ideal for the open air setting and as usual, the pastoral sounds of Central Park, blended nicely with the production (not so much the flight path to LaGuardia overhead, but hey). The cast is headlined by Broadway veterans and newcomers alike and the result is a delicious stew that should be sampled by all theatre aficionados. One of the finest voices in theatre, Norm Lewis is exceptional as Valentine and it’s a shame that most Americans only know him from an Olive Garden commercial. Newcomer Oscar Isaac as Proteus exudes sexiness reminiscent of Antonio Banderas and plays the sympathetic rogue quite well. This is certainly an actor I look forward to seeing in more future productions on and off-Broadway. Playing the returning warrior Eglamour, Paolo Montalban gives a suitably over-the-top performance quite different from his role in Pacific Overtures last season and it’s fun to see this gifted actor’s range. Don Stephenson is an actor I’ve seen in a variety of roles from romantic lead to bumbling nincompoop is ideal in the role of Thurio and Renee Elise Goldsberry sets the stage on fire as Sylvia. All around, these Two Gentlemen would be welcome guests during any Broadway season.

Seen in Columbus, Ohio: After being spoiled on what Broadway has to offer, it can be dicey seeing a national tour of a hit musical. Luckily that was not the case when The Phantom of the Opera stopped at the Ohio Theatre in Columbus. The sets, costumes, and lighting were perfectly reconstructed from the Broadway/London original. However, the sheer grandeur of the Ohio Theatre made the mock-grandeur onstage seem pretty underwhelming. The proscenium for the Phantom only went half as high as the theatre’s soaring proscenium. Likewise, the famous chandelier that takes such a prominent role in the show was dwarfed by the theatre’s majestic chandelier that was easily three times as big as the prop. The only differences in the staging were subtle ones—Christine and Raoul exit stage left at the end of “All I Ask of You” rather than down a staircase from the Paris Opera House roof and the candelabras in the Phantom’s subterranean lair move on from the wings rather than rise through the floor. The performances were as good as any of the various Broadway casts I’ve seen. Also refreshing was witnessing the reactions of audience members who were seeing the show for the first time. To be amidst a Midwest audience’s laughter and applause was almost like seeing the show for the first time (instead of the thirteenth!).

Seen in Columbus & Madison Square Garden: Say what you will about Neil Diamond, but after seeing him at both the Schottenstein Center in Columbus and Madison Square Garden, I have to admit that I hope I’m as vital as he is when I’m 64. Dressed very smartly in black slacks and a black shirt with only a smattering of sequins (FYI: the shirts were different from venue to venue), Diamond delivered a rundown of some of his biggest hits for two hours! As a self-admitted fan of the jazz singer, I’ve seen him in concert so many times in the last 20 years that frankly I’ve lost count. I think these were my seventh and eighth times. As dynamic a performer as he still is, I have to admit that I was disappointed that he did not preview any material from his upcoming album produced by Rick Rubin. Apparently a tepid response to three new tunes during dates in DC assured their elimination from the playlist. However, what should be eliminated is the Jonathan Livingston Seagull medley that seems to drag on forever and was really never that popular to begin with. And personally, if I never hear Sweet Caroline again—especially with the popular “audience participation”—I will be a happy fan. A Neil Diamond entourage member for over 20 years, LD Marilyn Lowey brought sufficient flash and trash to the proceedings utilizing a rig rich with moving fixtures (Cyberlights, MAC 2K Washes & Profiles, Studio Spots). One of the coolest parts of the show was Diamond’s traditional encore of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show where the stage becomes an altar and Diamond is raised on a circular platform while a small ring of Profiles and Washes lower to form a kinetic halo while Diamond gets in his bombastic preacher mode. The set was simple and could easily be modified for an in-the-round concert and appeared to look like a vacant mound as the show opened, but eventually revealing the band members one by one as Lycra sheets were stripped away. IMAG projection was also featured this time around on two screens on either side of the stage with the images rear-projected. With multiple cameras used throughout, the projections were directed more skillfully than most televised concerts I’ve seen over the years. The only time the singer was onscreen was during the aforementioned Seagull medley when shots of, well, seagulls and clouds were shown, and during America when especially poignant, sepia toned photos of immigrants coming to US shores were shown. However, the final shot was a little odd as it was a scene of the Manhattan skyline, the twin towers standing tall. This scene got an extra round of applause in New York, not so much in Ohio. All in all, Diamond is as much a crowd pleaser as he ever was as the audience was on its feet during a large portion of the show, not an easy task for an arena full of aging Baby Boomers!

--Mark A. Newman