Sterling N.Y. stage directors make their mark anew

Alice Coote as Anne Strawson and Paul Appleby as Brian in Nico Muhly's "Two Boys."

Ken Howard

Alice Coote and Paul Appleby in Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys.” Director Bartlett Sher seamlessly brings together the opera’s diverse settings.

Names of stars on theater marquees are there to whet your appetite. But actors aren’t the only ones who can whip up buzz. Directors with a proven talent for bringing something surprising and special create their own sort of stir.

Like Sam Gold, whose just-opened production of “Fun Home,” at the Public Theater, has secured a spot on my Best of 2013 List. Credit for this smart and touching musical, of course, also belongs to creators Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, who adapted Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel, and a wonderful cast.

Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in the musical "Fun Home," directed with striking intimacy by Sam Gold.

Joan Marcus

Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in the musical “Fun Home,” directed with striking intimacy by Sam Gold.

But the show came together with the Golden touch. Gold directs with a so-real-it-hurts intimacy and honesty that characters emerge as real people. He has directed a number of plays by Annie Baker — “The Flick,” about moviehouse drones, “The Aliens,” about slacker outcasts, and “Circle Mirror Transformation,” about amateur actors. During each of these I felt like I was overhearing real conversations.

Of course, not all of his shows totally click — “Look Back in Anger” and “Picnic” weren’t high points. Still, I’m looking forward to eavesdropping on Toni Colette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei, who’ll co-star in Will Eno’s suburban comedy “The Realistic Joneses” on Broadway in January.

Versatile director Bartlett Sher's shows include "The Light in the Piazza," "South Pacific" and, currently, the opera "Two Boys" at the Met.

Versatile director Bartlett Sher’s shows include “The Light in the Piazza,” “South Pacific” and, currently, the opera “Two Boys” at the Met.

That stellar cast provided four reasons to get excited. That Gold is steering the play, as he did at last year’s run at Yale, is reason number five.

John Tiffany is another fast-rising director whose participation in a project creates excitement. Actors and writers would kill to work with him. And no wonder: He has made all the right moves since breaking through in New York six years ago with his bold and bracing production of “Black Watch,” about the war in Iraq, for the National Theatre of Scotland.

Julie Taymor of "Lion King" fame is directing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Brooklyn.

Richard Corkery/New York Daily News

Julie Taymor of “Lion King” fame is directing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Brooklyn.

Tiffany made his name for his bold concepts and high-impact simplicity. That was the case with the poignant and romantic musical “Once” as well has his critically kissed revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” Tiffany’s take showcases Tennessee Williams’ classic in striking ways.

Like Tiffany, who moves easily between dramas and musicals, Bartlett Sher boasts even more enviable versatility. Sher has directed plays and musicals Off-Broadway and on Broadway, including “The Light in the Piazza” and “South Pacific,” which won several Tonys including one for his direction. He has become a frequent director at the Metropolitan Opera.

John Tiffany directed "Once" and is now at the helm of "The Glass Menagerie."

Richard Corkery/New York Daily News

John Tiffany directed “Once” and is now at the helm of “The Glass Menagerie.”

Not everything Sher has touched has been a total success. “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” was a bit of a mess — one he says he’s determined to revisit, likely down the road in a revised production in London.

But Sher’s signature seamless elegance is all over composer Nico Muhly and librettist Craig Lucas’ haunting opera “Two Boys,” which opened Monday at the Met. Sher’s production floated from scene to scene in this sex- and cyber-motored mystery that glided from grubby garage to cop shop to bedroom to ICU to the interior world of Internet chatters. How to stage that last locale? Sher gave shape to this unseen world which rivaled the intense beauty of Muhly’s gorgeous choral passages.

Sher has more up his sleeve this season. I’m looking forward to his Broadway production of “The Bridges of Madison County,” opening on Broadway this winter. He has a flair for the romantic and this show — based on the famous novel-turned-Meryl Streep weeper — is in his wheelhouse.

Also on my hotly anticipated list is the exuberantly imaginative director Alex Timbers (“Here Lies Love”), who’s guiding Broadway’s musical adaptation of “Rocky” in February. And there’s “The Lion King” director Julie Taymor, who’s putting her mark on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Theatre for a New Audience’s new stage in Brooklyn.

Despite Taymor’s ups and downs and disasters (“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”), she’s a director of exotic ideas. That’s a plus for tackling such a familiar Shakespeare work — or, for that matter, any show.

Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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