It's not every Mennonite girl from Kansas who is torn between two lovers: Jesus and Judy. Judy, of course, is Judy Garland. And the Mennonite girl is Sherie Rene Scott, star of Everyday Rapture, an uplifting musical at the American Airlines Theater. Part memoir, part rock-the-house entertainment, Everyday Rapture is Broadway at its most personal. "At the core of my spiritual quest, I was searching for a way to be one with God -- while a lot of people clapped," confesses Scott.
Her humor, thanks to a book co-written by Scott and Dick Scanlan, is her salvation. It's useful when coping with the judgmental, conservative beliefs of her mostly Mennonite past. She fondly remembers her favorite cousin Jerome, who shares her love of song and show business. Such worldly passions were anathema in a world where plainness is paramount, and pride is sinful. Little Sherie may have been raised in Kansas, but she was meant for Manhattan.
That's the glory of Everyday Rapture; it's a psycho-sexual-spiritual journey rendered with great heart, great staging and great songs. Scott calls herself a "semi-star" in "semi-hits," a reference to her noted roles in three Broadway shows: Aida, The Little Mermaid and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
There's no "semi" about it. She's a bona fide star -- blessed with a gorgeous voice, superb delivery and high-voltage charisma. Between singing "You Made Me Love You" to a Jesus montage and saluting Garland and Mr. Rogers in song, she stages a funny vignette of a teenager (a terrific Eamon Foley) who mimics her on YouTube. It's a telling and hilarious statement on the nature of celebrity in the digital age.
Her backup singers, the Mennonettes (Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe), are a wonderful addition. Plus, Scott is aided by the sassy choreography of Michele Lynch, top-notch orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Kitt, of Next to Normal fame, and seamless direction by Michael Mayer.
But the light shines brightest on Scott -- inside and out. She's crafted a magical performance; a reminder that musical theater is also a sacred art.
The power of art, particularly actors, is on display at the Classic Stage Company, one of off-Broadway's gems. On the heels of its triumphant Venus in Fur, it's chosen Alexander Ostrovsky's 19th-century Russian comedy The Forest, starring Dianne Wiest.
Ostrovsky, the father of Russian national drama, has been overshadowed in modern times by Chekhov, but his smart, insightful works are relevant to current audiences. The Forest is set on the estate of imperious, upper-class Raisa (Dianne Wiest) who fashions herself a charitable, generous soul. In reality, she's vain, demanding and hypocritical. She spouts moral platitudes, but acts in cunning, self-serving ways. She pontificates about family values, but treats her niece (Lisa Joyce) with contempt, while fawning on her young charge Bulanov (Adam Driver).
Serfs, swindling bureaucrats and town elders, surround Raisa. As she begins to set her affairs in order, two actors, Gennady (a first-rate John Douglas Thompson) and Arkady (Tony Torn), enter the story. Gennady is the counterpoint to this stuffy class-obsessed world, riddled with various subterfuges. He is passionate and flawed, but his arrival will change everyone's life. His philosophy mirrors Ostrovsky's message: The importance of doing the right thing. That it's rendered with comedic flourish makes The Forest, with its strong cast and able direction, another CSC winner.
The Pearl Theater takes an American turn for its final show of the season: Frank Gilroy's 1946 kitchen-sink drama The Subject Was Roses at City Center. Set in the Bronx just after World War II, a long-feuding couple welcomes their son home. Timmy Cleary (Matthew Amendt) left at 18, a sickly boy, and returns three years later, a young man. He's beginning to see his parents, indulgent Nettie (a touching Carol Schultz) and bombastic salesman father John (a strong Dan Daily), in a more mature light, sensitive to their respective differences.
John is a self-made man, but a bigoted bully whose womanizing has alienated his family. His sensitive wife, in an enormously moving monologue, recounts their fateful courtship. Their battleground is often trivial -- coffee, dinner -- but the turmoil runs deep. Both love their son and vie for his attention. Timmy (a notable Matthew Amendt) uses a bouquet of roses to jump-start his parents' relationship. A symbol of past hopes and future promise, it's not enough to cure a fragile marriage.
Roses addresses family vulnerability, communication misfires and a son's first steps into adulthood. It doesn't have the power of an Odets' play, but the drama is real and heartfelt, aided by the trio's chemistry and Harry Feiner's convincing set.