Broadway is back and, last week, we finally made it back to New York City to enjoy it.  The last time I saw a Broadway show was on March 10th, 2020.  Kevin and I sat in the second row of Moulin Rouge! for that evening's performance.  The next morning that show became the first to officially close its doors due to the quickly emerging COVID-19 pandemic.  By noon that Thursday, March 11th, 2020, all of Broadway was shut down and remained so for roughly a year and a half.

We have an annual tradition of visiting New York each March and basically seeing an entire season of shows in about ten days.  This year, from March 8th through the 17th, we were thrilled to return. To celebrate, we saw a total of fourteen productions- most on Broadway, a handful off-Broadway.

Here they are!  Rank-ordered from good to best!

#14- LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

Chad Benefield
Chad Benefield
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The revival of Little Shop of Horrors has enjoyed quite a run at Westside Theatre. Conrad Ricamora recently replaced Jeremy Jordan and took over the role of Seymour.  He's really endearing and fun to watch.  However, the day I saw the show, the two other stars- Tammy Blanchard (Audrey) and Christian Borle (Orin) were out and their understudies took the helm.  I don't mind seeing shows with understudies or alternates (more on that below), but on this particular day, the production was incredibly flat.  To be completely honest, Little Shop felt more "college" than it did "off-Broadway" and I walked away wishing I was "Somewhere That's Green."

#13- TO MY GIRLS

Chad Benefield
Chad Benefield
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I love the Tony Kiser Theatre at Second Stage. If you ever visit, you'll get to see the Tony Award for Dear Evan Hansen.  It's on display in the theatre's tiny, but inviting bar area.  It's really cool to stand beside and gawk at a Tony Award.

To My Girls, the new play by JC Lee (Luce), turned out to be a bonus show thanks to an insanely dense fog which settled over New York and caused a bunch of flights, including ours home, to be cancelled.

To My Girls tells the story of a handful of gay men who get together, for the first time post-COVID, in Palm Springs.

As expected, there are some hilarious one-liners (two of my favorites involved Rami Malek and Taylor Swift).  However, I couldn't shake the show's cringe-worthy moments that are built around gay stereotypes and the show didn't really do much to deconstruct those labels and assumptions.  Maybe that was the point?  If it was, I missed it.

#12- THE LIFE

Chad Benefield/WBKR
Chad Benefield/WBKR
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If you're not familiar with New York City Center's ENCORE series, it basically breathes new life into older shows- many of which weren't huge commercial successes. I was intrigued by this particular adaptation because I saw (and liked) the original The Life back in the mid-90s.

I was also intrigued by this production because it's directed by Billy Porter and, let me tell you, you can tell from the start.  Look!  I love Billy and think he's an immense talent and an important voice in the LGBTQ community.  But, in this heavy-handed reinterpretation, he literally beats us over the head with social consciousness.  I'm about as liberal as it gets, but I don't go to the theatre to get lectured.  I go to be entertained and the entertaining moments in this show were spread out over an arduous three hours.

Massive props to Ledisi, who brought the house down with her rendition of "The Oldest Profession."  Oddly, the number was moved from Act One to Act Two, but it didn't matter.  It was certainly worth waiting for and nearly worth the price of admission.

But, all in all, The Life needed more of a pulse.

#11- PLAZA SUITE

Chad Benefield/WBKR
Chad Benefield/WBKR
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Absolutely nothing is updated in this new production of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite.  The action is still set in 1968/1969 and every reference in the show feels that old.  But, it certainly has new life thanks to New York City's power couple- Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.

We literally bought our tickets so we could see them in action and they were worth it.  It's fun to watch them work together.  However, I will confess that Broderick, an accomplished stage actor, has more chops and better timing.  As endearing as Sarah Jessica Parker is, she's outclassed by the natural instincts of her husband.

#10- TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL

Chad Benefield/WBKR
Chad Benefield/WBKR
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For me, this was probably the biggest disappointment of our trip.  We had tickets to see Tina two years ago.  Our original tickets were for Friday, March 12th, 2020.  Broadway shut down the day before and we missed the chance to see Adrienne Warren in the lead role.

However, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe is INCREDIBLE as Tina Turner and nearly blows the rafters out of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.  But she's pretty much it.  Tina is remarkably lifeless in terms of storytelling and staging. I lost track of how many production numbers were simply staged with Tina standing down center, singing alone, with random people standing upstage behind her.  It was like watching a high school production in which the director has the "extras" stand on stage so they have something to do.

Tina doesn't really come to life until the three song mini-concert at the end of the show.

Then and only then does Tina actually feel like Tina.

#9- WICKED

Chad Benefield/WBKR
Chad Benefield/WBKR
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In seeing Wicked, we violated one of our golden rules. We never see a show twice.

We instituted this rule after seeing Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen, then seeing the production a year later after he had been replaced. It wasn't even close, so we made a pact that we would never see the same show twice (unless there's an extenuating circumstance that requires it).

We saw a touring company of Wicked years ago, but had never seen it at the Gershwin on Broadway.  So, that extenuating circumstance, and the fact the show just cast its first African-American Glinda, took us back to Oz.

It didn't take long for us to remember just how geared to younger audiences the show's humor is. However, the sets, costumes, cast and orchestra are sensational. Brittney Johnson was hilarious as Glinda and Lindsay Pearce, who has a Broadway-shattering voice, just wailed as Elphaba. Her voice, throughout that Wednesday matinee, was truly defying gravity.

#8- STOMP

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Chad Benefield/WBKR
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I haven't seen STOMP since the first touring company rolled into Louisville, Kentucky when I was finishing up undergraduate school in the mid 90s. So, we decided to check it out nearly thirty years later at NYC's Oprheum Theatre.  By the way, the Orpheum has an odd smell.  It seems to be a combination of mold and musk, but it's actually the perfect setting for this rhythmic masterpiece that features a cast of eight making music out of the most random household items and tools- broomsticks, shopping carts, plastic bags, trash cans and, yes, even the kitchen sink.

The cast never utters a word.  They don't have to.  After all these years, this show  stands up and still manages to command a big, appreciative audience.  Even despite waking up that morning with matching migraines, Kevin and I had a blast at STOMP.  The show is creative, unique and, I'll say it, genius.

#7- COMPANY

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Chad Benefield/WBKR
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There's no other way to say it.  This is an absolute master class in Broadway theatre and performance.  Though I do think Katrina Lenk is a bit out of her depth in the lead role, the rest of this cast fires on all cylinders.  The cast features a Broadway Who's Who and stage veterans Christopher Sieber and Jennifer Sinard stole this show in my opinion.  They were side-splittingly hilarious as "Harry" and "Sarah."

Of course, watching Patti LuPone chew scenery is always a privilege and she nails the showstopper "The Ladies Who Lunch."

But the absolute best musical moment of the show comes courtesy of Matt Doyle, who stars as "Jamie".  His performance of "Getting Married Today" is a frantic, mental and premarital meltdown that comes complete with a priest flying out of the fridge.  It's epic and brilliant.

#6- MJ

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Chad Benefield/WBKR
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Okay, I get it.  MJ doesn't go anywhere near the controversies that ultimately threatened to destroy Michael Jackson's reputation as the King of Pop. But, in fairness, this isn't that show and doesn't pretend to be. In fact, MJ is set in 1992, before those initial child sex abuse allegations were revealed. Now, I'm certainly not dismissing those claims but just providing the context for this show, which takes place in rehearsals for Michael's Dangerous Tour.

I normally am not a big fan of jukebox musicals.  I already gave one example of that above- Tina.  But MJ works and that's primarily because of the incredible performance of Myles Frost, who morphs into Michael so expertly that, at times, I thought I was watching the reincarnation of the King.  Myles' singing voice, dancing ability, speech patterns and physical embodiment of Michael Jackson are transformative. It's uncanny really.

And that choreography- the "Michael Jackson Movement"- of Rich and Tone Talauega is INSANE! In the mid 90s, they worked with Michael as dancers and choreographers. There's no doubt they learned from the best and have brought back to life the King of Pop's signature moves.

#5- TAKE ME OUT

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Chad Benefield/WBKR
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Second Stage's revival of Richard Greenberg's play, Take Me Out, is funny, poignant, and, at times, just downright brutal. The cast is headlined by Jesse Williams, Jessie Tyler Ferguson and Patrick J. Adams.

Jessie Tyler Ferguson is absolutely hysterical and hits a grand slam with his monologue about baseball. By the way, his character "Mason" doesn't really know anything about the sport at all- which makes his take so refreshing, candid and fun.

But, for me, the star of this show is Patrick Adams. As "Kippy", he does his very best to keep his team, which is rocked by the announcement that its star player Darren Lemming (Jesse Williams) is gay, together.  Despite the best of intentions, he doesn't do a very good job of that and his team unravels both on the field and, more dramatically, off it.

#4- MOULIN ROUGE!

Remember when I mentioned earlier that we never see shows twice unless there are extenuating circumstances? Well, the third time was the charm with Moulin Rouge! In July of 2019, we had tickets to see the show and were heading out of the hotel to go.  That's when the Blackout of 2019 happened and the show, like nearly every other show on Broadway that night, got canceled for the evening because there was ZERO electricity in Midtown.

We were reimbursed and purchased tickets for March 10th, 2020. We saw the show that night and Broadway closed the next morning.  What we didn't know as we were watching that evening was that various cast members had contracted COVID.  Honestly, we could tell some of the performers weren't feeling well that evening.  We just didn't know exactly why until news broke the next morning.

So, we wanted to see Moulin Rouge! again. FINALLY! We got the full experience and it's an absolute blast.  Aaron Tveit's voice is just pure gold.

And can we take a moment and talk about Satine alternate, Ashley Loren?  Oddly enough, both times we have been able to see the show, the actress playing Satine has been out.  In 2020, Karen Olivo was sidelined.  Last week, Natalie Mendoza was out.  So, we have seen Ashley Loren twice.  Just give her the role already, People!  She is CRUSHING it!  Her rendition of Katy Perry's "Firework" is a showstopper and her vocals are lighting up the Al Hirschfled Theatre.

#3- PARADISE SQUARE

Chad Benefield/WBKR
Chad Benefield/WBKR
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Mark it down right now! Joaquina Kalunkango, who stars as "Nelly O'Brien" is going to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and she will deserve it.  We happened to get very lucky and snag front row seats for the very first Broadway preview of this show. Consequently, we were just feet away from Joaquina as she sang the 11th hour song, "Let It Burn". That performance was sensational and set off a rousing, minute-long standing ovation when she launched the last note straight through the ceiling of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

The show isn't perfect, but Paradise Square is loaded with stellar performances and a story that will have you cheering and crying. If you don't believe me, check this out.

Someone in the balcony filmed the curtain call from the show I attended. Listen to this crowd's reaction.  I was in the front row of that crowd and was applauding and wiping away my tears in the process.

I have seen tons of Broadway shows and Joaquina's performance is one of the best I have ever seen.

#2- SIX

Chad Benefield/WBKR
Chad Benefield/WBKR
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Here's what this musical's about in a nutshell. It's the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII staged as a pop concert. I know that sounds a little bizarre, but trust me.  It's a freaking blast!

Yes. Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr take turns singing their life stories- the herstory remix- and compete for our adoration and applause.

This show is fast-paced, expertly danced and performed.  I loved every single minute of this show.  It's an hour and 20 minute blast.

#1- SUFFS

Chad Benefield/WBKR
Chad Benefield/WBKR
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Our favorite show of our trip was this one. SUFFS is currently playing off-Broadway at The Public Theatre, but there is absolutely no doubt in mind that this is Broadway-bound and there's no doubt in my mind it's going to win a Tony Award for Best Musical when it becomes eligible.

But more than that, I think that Shaina Taub's SUFFS has the makings of a cultural phenomenon much like Hamilton became. This musical, which tells the story of the pioneers of the women's suffrage movement, is a marvel.  It's funny, compelling and inspiring.

We were fortunate enough to snag second row tickets for the very first preview performance, which was met with a rousing standing ovation for its passionate and talented cast. I foresee legions of female theatre fans bringing their younger generations to see this show.

Simply put, SUFFS is a musical Women's March.  It's a battle cry for equality that continues, on so many levels, today.

I can't say enough about this show and I will wave its flag endlessly. It's an absolutely historic and riveting work of musical theatre. I had cold chills watching this because I knew I was witnessing greatness in bloom.

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