The 2020 Tony Awards are a long way away, but an early shoutout of major love to Ben Stanton, lighting designer (with a festival lighting system designed by Mike Baldassari) of Regina Spektor’s five-night Broadway residency (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, to Wednesday). Whether casting a web of lights around the singer-songwriter as she sings and plays piano, or wheeling shafts of light, colored red, gold, green, pink, and purple as her passionate music fills the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, this is probably the most beautifully lit production on Broadway.
In her first performance on Thursday evening, Spektor herself was overwhelmed. “Just another fucking show,” she intoned drily when really, she said more than once, she could not believe she was here on Broadway.
She said she wasn’t sure if she could engage this Broadway demon inside her head too much, wondering where such an interchange might lead. But yes, she couldn’t believe it, she kept saying. She was here.
“We love you,” screamed a fan from the audience. Actually, more than one fan screamed this from the audience, because this—like many musical residencies on Broadway, e.g., Bruce Springsteen, Morrissey—are for the fans. In a very New York moment, someone snapped back at one of the shouted “I love you’s,” “Oh, shut up.”
Of the many songs Spektor sings, the most cherished by fans included "You’ve Got Time" (the Orange is the New Black theme), "Samson," "On the Radio," and "Fidelity." She also sang, in tribute to her father on what was World Refugee Day, "Smile (Though Your Heart Is Aching)." Her family were refugees, Spektor noted—they emigrated from the Soviet Union to America when she was nine.
When she sang "8th Floor," the back of the stage became a panoply of lights, as if a twinkling city skyline. "How (Can I Forget Your Love)" saw her bathed in purple and white light. Other background projections included bubbles, space, shooting stars, and for "The Trapper and The Furrier" (“What a strange, strange world we live in/Where the good are damned and the wicked forgiven”), there were forests and wilderness.
The response to all these songs—both whimsical and thunderous—was rapturous, as devoted fans are obviously inclined to respond rapturously. But even a Spektor first-timer or agnostic will soon be converted.
It didn’t matter on Thursday night that the show started 20 minutes late, or that Spektor forgot the words to songs, or that some technology failed. It just made everything feel rougher around the edges and intimate. Also, her music was stupendous; she sang and played piano for two hours. Indeed, there were two pianos. She worried that one might feel left out.
But such impish observations, delivered in her airy-fairy voice, often received their own get-real payoff; in this case, that the piano was a piano and wouldn’t feel anything at all. For all her ethereality, Spektor has a spike in her step too.
This wasn’t Springsteen territory; the evening of song is not studded with storytelling, or revelations of pains past. Spektor’s music is the story, the only breaks in the two hours taken up with swigs from a flask. Occasionally, the dancers Caleb Teicher and Evita Arce appear; Teicher taps delightfully, particularly in a duet with Spektor. And she was also joined on night one by Amanda Palmer and Lance Horne, who took turns commandeering piano, accordion, and standing mikes to sing a riotous version of "My Favorite Things."
This, we were told, was in tribute to Broadway and The Sound of Music, which premiered on the Lunt-Fontanne stage in 1959. Julie Andrews’ name was invoked, but—as my theater pal noted—it had been Mary Martin who had played Maria in the Broadway production; Andrews played Maria on screen.
But no ghostly Broadway forces rained fury down on Spektor; quite the opposite. The finale involved golden light and snow, and there were more cries of “I love you,” “We love you,” and “You’re amazing.” Yes, Regina Spektor, you’re well and truly on fucking Broadway, and triumphantly so.