Alisa and I saw *Leopoldstadt* on Broadway on Apr 12, 2023. It's a new Tom Stoppard play that premiered in London in 2020 and opened on Broadway in the fall of 2022. It follows a Viennese Jewish family from 1899 to 1955. Its cast of 38 actors is unusually large for a play, with more than a handful of roles for children (one little boy appeared to be no older than four).
Here's a Today Show feature on the show:
I'm a big Stoppard fan. My gateway Stoppard drug, like many other people, was *Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,* his breakout 1967 hit. I was supposed to have played James Joyce in a college production of his play *Travesties* but that show never happened (on a side note, the play was to have played in repertory with *The Importance of Being Earnest,* in which I would have played Lady Bracknell). I saw Stoppard's *Arcadia* and *The Coast of Utopia* on Broadway, and *Travesties.* His plays have a winning mixture of intellect, stagecraft, a delicious use of language, and an emotional content that seems to stalk in the shadows and then attack with great force.
*Leopoldstadt* was a big hit in London and I was excited to see it when it came to Broadway. Stoppard's four grandparents were Jews murdered in concentration camps in World War II so this play was personal for him, which made it particularly compelling.
I had a couple of trusted friends who saw it early in the run and didn't like it at all. They found it frustrating, they weren't able to keep track of how the characters were related. They were confused by actors playing the same character at different points in their lives and other actors playing different characters, or is that guy the grandson of the guy he was playing a half hour ago? Or the great nephew? Or just a friendly neighbor? That kind of thing. I became a little more skeptical.
My wonderful friend Alisa told me she was going to be visiting from San Francisco and asked if I wanted to see this with her. Well that made up my mind. And wow, I was so glad I saw it, it was a beautiful play.
Though I have to admit I was a little slow to warm to it. At first it looked a little too much like *Fanny and Alexander* with Jews. But it became more original and more satisfying pretty quickly.
Director Patrick Marber had also done *Travesties* on Broadway and you could tell he was excited to be working with such a big cast in this show. He kept things moving and told the story with as much clarity as possible. It helped that I had recently read something by Stoppard himself saying that the audience shouldn't try and keep things straight in terms of the specific relationships of the characters (this is what drove my friends batty), they should not put much effort in that and just let the story wash over them.
The use of accents was a little confusing. The apparently all American cast spoke with vaguely English accents, even though they were playing Viennese, which I thought was an odd choice. And late in the play a Nazi character spoke with a German accent, which was also a little strange. Stoppard often writes dialogue with a somewhat elevated, literary tone and that didn't always land just right with some of the characters or actors.
I'm singling out two of the actors and it seems telling that they were the only two actors I knew in the cast. I saw Brandon Uranowitz in *Falsettos* and *Burn This* - - he impressed me in both and it was great to see him playing a meaty role in a big epic like this. And I've had a crush on the adorable Joshua Malina since I first discovered *The West Wing.* I'd never seen him onstage and was pleased to see him really hold his own.
Alisa was impressed with two elements that bridged the transitions between scenes, when they made a jump forward in time. They projected a filmed montage of black and white photographs, which gave a concise context for the next scene. And often an actor would pass something on to the actor who was playing that character in the next scene before the action started.
The Malina character, late in the play, said something that confused me, but in the most delightful way. It seemed that he had made something up about his personal history, and maybe we had seen that story enacted earlier in the play? It was a nice sort of wink at the audience, it made me smile.
The most touching and striking element of the play is how Stoppard engineers things so that the audience often knows more than the characters. Even in 1899, the seeds of the genocide of the 1930s were being planted in the play and as we inched closer to WWII the dread became very intense indeed. That was rewarding, as an audience member.