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Shuffle Along: Review, Pics

“Shuffle Along is jazzy, tuneful, full of pep,” says one of the rave reviews from 1921 printed on the curtain during intermission at the Music Box Theater, where George C. Wolfe has mounted a revival of the all-black musical that deserves far more exuberant praise than “full of pep”: It is cataclysmically entertaining.
That, however, refers to the musical numbers. The full title of the show is the (tellingly) awkward “Shuffle Along Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,”….Wolfe’s ambition to tell the story behind the 1921 musical…quickly starts feeling as if he were a PhD student defending his thesis about the significance of this “sadly neglected” musical

Full review on D C Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Julieta Cervantes to see it enlarged.
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Broadway Divas and The #1 Song on Their Birthdays

What does it say that, on the day that Laura Benanti was born, the number one song was Bad Girls, and the number one movie was Dracula?
Probably nothing, but thanks to a #1 song database, and a #1 movie database, you can look up the song or movie that was number one on any date. I looked up the hit song on the birthdays of the most popular current Broadway divas. Consider it song astrology.

Laura Benanti

July 15, 1979

Bad Girls by Donna Summer

Kristin Chenoweth

July 24, 1968

Grazing in the Grass by Hugh Masekela

Sutton Foster

March 18, 1975

Black Water by The Doobie Brothers

Nikki M. James

June 3, 1981

Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes

Patti LuPone

April 21, 1949

Cruising Down the River by Blue Barron and His Orchestra

 

Audra McDonald

July 3, 1970

The Love You Save by The Jackson 5

Idina Menzel

May 30, 1971

Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones

 

Kelli O’Hara

April 16, 1976

Disco Lady by Johnnie Taylor

Bernadette Peters

February 28, 1948

I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover by Art Mooney and His Orchestra

Billy Porter

September 21, 1969

Sugar, Sugar by The Archies

 

Chita Rivera

January 23, 1933

 

Stormy Weather (Keeps Rainin’ All the Time) by Ethel Waters

Favorite New York Stage Performances of 2014

“As an actor, you’re often the most visible part of a project while having the least amount of say over its final form,” James Franco said recently.  Although at the time he was making both his Broadway acting debut and his Off-Broadway directorial debut, he was talking about movie actors.  Stage actors have it better, artistically that is — not in monetary compensation or recognition.

So here are some of the New York stage performances in 2014 that deserve more recognition.

The individual performers are listed alphabetically, but let’s begin with some noteworthy ensembles.

Jose Joaquin Perez, Jason Bowen, Brian Quijada and Reza Salazar as busboys in "My Manana Comes"

Jose Joaquin Perez, Jason Bowen, Brian Quijada and Reza Salazar as busboys in “My Manana Comes”

The four actors who portrayed busboys at an Upper East Side restaurant in Elizabeth Irwin’s My Mañana Comes – Jason Bowen, Jose Joaquin Perez, Brian Quijada, Reza Salazar – achieved a level of synchronicity that was a pleasure to watch, while at the same time each performer communicated both his character’s particular struggles and the tensions among the group.

Liza Fernandez, Annie Henk and Lisa Ramirez working in the poultry plant

Liza Fernandez, Annie Henk and Lisa Ramirez working in the poultry plant

Similarly, the performers in Lisa Ramirez’s To The Bone, play characters who have attained a machine-line efficiency both in their jobs in an upstate chicken factory and in the house they share unhappily together, but they never let us lose sight of their individual humanity. As one character observes, there is an order “that is much like a heart- an artificial heart – borne out of necessity- but functioning nonetheless.” So kudos to Dan Domingues, Liza Fernandez, Annie Henk, Paola Lazaro-Munoz, Lisa Ramirez, Gerardo Rodriguez, Xochitl Romero, Haynes Thigpen

Zach Braff and Nick Cordero perform from Bullets Over Broadway in Bryant Park shortly before the show closes on Broadway

Zach Braff and Nick Cordero perform from Bullets Over Broadway in Bryant Park shortly before the show closes on Broadway

Nick Cordero, the best thing by far in Bullets Over Broadway, played Cheech, a 1920s thug who turns out to be a brilliant playwright. Cordero turned out to be a terrific song-and-dance man

Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow photo2 by Carol Rosegg

Appearing on a Broadway stage after an absence of 35 years, Mia Farrow felt ideally cast as Brian Dennehy’s half-century love interest in Love Letters. With her translucent beauty and educated diction, she seemed believably rooted in the upper crust enclave in which the character is raised, but which never serves her well. Farrow ranges from flighty to flirty to fragile, with a suggestion of great feeling – much of it all the more communicated, paradoxically, because it is not expressed on the surface.

James Iglehart in Aladdin

Whatever the billing, the star of “Aladdin” is its genie, James Monroe Iglehart, a worthy heir to a role originated on film by Robin Williams. A winner of a 2014 Tony Award for his performance, Iglehart morphs from showbiz master of ceremonies to carnival barker to infomercial huckster to game show host to Cab Calloway-like zoot-suiter to disco dj to hip-hopper in a Hawaiian shirt, to yes, a sparkling-suited magical genie who emerges amid smoke from a little lamp.

When he appeared in “Memphis,” he had a relatively small part as an oversized janitor who becomes a sexy singing sensation (nods to Chubby Checkers.) Shaking and rocking it to the roof in a song called “Big Love,” he delivered a showstopper. It is too much to say he is the show in “Aladdin,” but he certainly gives – and deserves – some big love.

Red Velvet4AdrianLesterbyTristram_KentonIn honoring Adrian Lester‘s mesmerizing turn in “Red Velvet,” a play written by his wife Lolita Chakrabarti, we also pay homage to the real-life character he is portraying, Ira Aldridge, a native New Yorker who left the United States as a teenager in order to pursue a career on stage, becoming a successful actor throughout Europe, specializing in Shakespearean roles. To put this in perspective: When Aldridge played Othello in London, they were still debating whether it was a good thing to end slavery in the British colonies.
LadyDay4

Praising a stage performance by Audra McDonald – who won a record-breaking sixth competitive Tony Award for portraying Billie Holliday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill – is a bit like praising bread, or Meryl Streep. Still, she transformed what could have been another tiresome play about a self-destructive star into a precise study of character, and sang in a style totally unlike her own.Year of the Rooster 6  Delphi Harrington, Bobby Moreno, Thomas Lyons Credit Russ Kuhner

Bobby Moreno began the year 2014 portraying a touching love scene between poultry in The Year of the Rooster.  He was Odysseus Rex, a young rooster permanently crouched, an angry punk with a knife, who is charmed by genetically over-engineered top-heavy hen. At the end of the year, Moreno stood tall in Grand Concourse as Oscar, the maintenance man and security guard in a soup kitchen in the Bronx, who is an adorable lug. Streetwise, charming, good-hearted, well-meaning, he is also slightly awkward, especially in scenes with Emma, who teases, taunts and seduces him.

Over the past few years, Moreno has stood out in charismatic roles from the dog-like military veteran in Ethan Lipton’s “Luther” to an evil teenager in Robert Askins’s “Hand to God.” Will 2015 be the Year of the Bobby Moreno?

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, TheEthel Barrymore Theatre
As Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Alexander Sharp, a recent graduate of Juilliard, literally climbs a wall, and plays with a rat, and is thrown in the air and carried about by the other cast members.
His is a physically demanding role – all that getting lifted through the air. But it requires balancing of a different sort as well, offering a convincing portrait without condescension. Sharp nails the gestures, the lack of eye contact, the matter-of-fact tone.

It’s impossible to cap an appreciation of stage performances at only ten. So nods to Annaleigh Ashford in You Can’t Take It With You, Kieran Culkin in This Is Our Youth, Patricia Clark in The Elephant Man, the ensemble cast of Dinner With FriendsHeather Burns , Marin Hinkle, Darren Pettie and Jeremy Shamos; the ensemble cast of Casa ValentinaReed Birney, John Cullum, Gabriel Ebert, Lisa Emery, Tom McGowan, Patrick Page, Larry Pine, Nick Westrate, Mare Winningham. Ok, I’ll stop.

Bullets and Billie Holiday on Broadway. Tax Help for Artists. Spring Beefcake. The Week in New York Theater

WeekinNewYorkApril13Eight Broadway shows are opening in the next ten days. Two opened last week, Bullets Over Broadway and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
It’s tax time, which may be why there is a special section on artists and money (see 13 below)

Also below: News about Michael Cera, Taylor Mac, Tommy Tune, Spring is Here beefcake section (shirtless Zac Efron, Neil Patrick Harris, James Franco)

The Week in New York Theater

Monday, April 7, 2014

Anthony Rapp, James Snyder, Idina Menzel, and LaChanze at  the If/Then recording session. Album will be out June 3

Anthony Rapp, James Snyder, Idina Menzel, and LaChanze at the If/Then recording session. Album will be out June 3

Mayor Bill de Blasio names Queens Museum’s Tom Finkelpearl to be commissioner of NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

 

Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner in the original Broadway production of The King and I

Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner in the original Broadway production of The King and I

The King and I will be on Broadway (at Lincoln Center) for the fifth time in 2015, says Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization’s Ted Chapin. They are in talks with Kelli O’Hara to star

Morgan Saylor (Dana Brody in Homeland) will play Cherry Jones’s daughter in MTC’s When We Were Young & Unafraid.Opens June 17

The disabled are US’s largest minority, yet invisible on our stages, says Christine Bruno of Inclusion Arts.

8This is our Youth Media Call

 

Michael Cera (Juno, Arrested Developmnet), Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down.) to co-star in Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth on Broadway. Opens Sept 11, Cort.

Cera will play the character of Warren, a young man who has stolen $15,000 from his father, and Culkin will play his self-absorbed drug-dealing friend, Dennis. It will also feature the Broadway debut of Tavi Gevinson.

BkxzSEkCIAACIiT110 years ago today, Long Acre Square was renamed Times Square. (Pictures of Times Square through the years in Museum of the City of New York collection.)

Jane Greenwood, who’s been designing costumes for Broadway since 1963, will get a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement

2014-15 New York Theater Workshop season will include: 1. Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, adapted. 2. The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar (Pulitzer winner), about kidnapped stockbroker

9

JoanMarcus2014 Tony Awards for Excellence: The Actors Fund’s Joe Benincasa, photographer Joan Marcus, general manager Charlotte Wilcox

It was set to reopen tomorrow Off-Broadway, but A Night With Janis Joplin “will postpone its opening indefinitely due to production issues.”

Yes, accessible theater IS possible. third in Howlround series on disability. Q & A with Charles Baldwin of Wheelock Family Theater.

 

10

Even people who don’t care for a particular Broadway show give it a standing ovation, survey by Ken Davenport found.

Meh to show but standing ovations:

41 percent: “I liked the actors, just not the show.”

36 percent: “Everyone else was standing, so I did too.”

My reasons for standing during a standing ovation:

1. I can’t see the performers bowing otherwise

2. I need to put on my coat.

taylormac1

TaylorMac2

Theater should do what fashion does: Make avant-garde seem exciting, even if you don’t want to wear it ~  Taylor Mac in interview with Bomb Magazine. “My outsiderness gave me a way inside to something else.”

NINE-time Tony winner Tommy Tune in “More Taps,Tunes and Tall Tales” his #CafeCarlyle cabaret debut April 22-May 3

 

RyanMcCartan

11

PhyllisFrelich

RIP Phyllis Frelich,Tony-winning deaf actress (Children of a Lesser God), co-founder of the National Theater for the Deaf, age 70.

Those who love him forgive his syphilis jokes. Drama Desk panel on Shakespeare 

EstelleParsonsTheVelocityofAutumn

“Most of my plays begin as questions,” says Cleveland’s Eric Coble, making his Broadway playwriting debut with The Velocity of Autumn.

What are your dream roles?

Ben Platt: Bobby in Company.

Nic Rouleau: I’m playing mine right now. Book of Mormon #BOMCHAT

The Obamas attended A Raisin in the Sun. At intermission, Michelle Obama gave A Raisin in the Sun actor Stephen McKinley Henderson a hug: “I’ll never be the same”

12

 

Theater Artists and Money

Haven’t done your taxes yet? Tax guide for freelancers (e.g. artists) from Freelancers Union

The theater is “built on the backs of unpaid young people”  writes Greg Redlawsk, who was one of them. Why unpaid internships are wrong.

They are also illegal: For an unpaid internship to be legal, it must be “for the benefit of the intern” not the employer, says the Department of Labor.

“Real artists have day jobs..The biggest myth we’re fed is that we need to sustain ourselves solely on our art”~ Sara J. Benincasa

Instead of unpaid internships, Americans need more paid apprenticeships . U.S. Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey is co-sponsoring a bill to create them.

In Mexico, artists can pay taxes with artwork  Can actors pay with performances?

 13

LadyDay4

BHlast

My review of Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill

Audra McDonald is the same age as the Billie Holiday she is depicting in the first Broadway production of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a remarkable performance that transcends the two singers’ differences…ust looking at the photographs of Holiday in the period of the play show the challenge that a clean liver and radiant beauty like McDonald would have in depicting her. McDonald meets that challenge successfully — but a question remains: Why?

Full review of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill

 

Spring Is Here

Zac Efron at MTV Awards

Zac Efron at MTV Awards

Neil Patrick Harris with a snake, apparently promoting Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Neil Patrick Harris with a snake, apparently promoting Hedwig and the Angry Inch

 

James Franco promoting Of Mice and Men without ever leaving home.

James Franco promoting Of Mice and Men without ever leaving home.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill Review: Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday

click on any photo to see it enlarged

Audra McDonald is the same age as the Billie Holiday she is depicting in the first Broadway production of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a remarkable performance that transcends the two singers’ differences, which far outweigh such superficial similarities as age and race.

In her early 40’s, McDonald — the offspring of a solidly middle class family (both her parents educators) who became a Juilliard-trained opera soprano — has an ever-ascending career, with five Tony Awards (a number matched only by the 88-year-old Angela Lansbury and the late Julie Harris) and two Grammys.  She is embraced for her performances on stage, on screen, in the concert hall, on iTunes.

At the same age, Holiday, often called the world’s greatest jazz singer,  was appearing in a dive in North Philadelphia, strung out on drugs and all but abandoned by the public, a few months before she died in 1959. Only seven people reportedly attended the actual club performance that inspired playwright Lanie Robertson to write the play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” almost three decades ago.

Just looking at the photographs of Holiday in the period of the play show the challenge that a clean liver and radiant beauty like McDonald would have in depicting her. McDonald meets that challenge successfully — but a question remains: Why?

billie holiday 25

Billie Holiday near the end of her life

Over 90 intermission-less minutes, McDonald sings 15 of Holiday’s songs in Holiday’s distinctive style. Although she had no formal training as a singer, and had a limited vocal range of little more than an octave, Holiday, the abandoned daughter of jazz guitarist Clarence Holiday, had an innovative ear that turned her voice into a jazz instrument. Influenced equally by the Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith records she heard as a child, she in turn influenced generations of singers that came after her. For this role, McDonald has adjusted her very different singing voice to resemble Holiday’s to an impressive degree.

McDonald doesn’t stop there. She effectively alters her speaking voice, even her posture, while presenting the monologues about Holiday’s life story that are presented to the audience as if random, rambling patter in-between the songs.

In turn witty, coarse, playful, angry, or matter of fact – and BHlastalways in a haze and a daze brought on by alcohol and drugs — McDonald’s Holiday tells us as if in passing about her rape at age 10; her prostitution at 13; the abusiveness of her first husband, trombonist Jimmy “Sonny” Monroe, who turned her on to heroin and her subsequent life-long/life-ending addiction; her imprisonment on drug charges; her cruel banning from New York City nightclubs because her felony conviction prevented her from acquiring the required “cabaret card.”  Even her successes as an artist provoke sad stories. One of her longest is about the bigotry she encountered while touring as the first African-American singer in an otherwise all-white big band, Artie Shaw’s; she talks of a maitress d’ in the South refusing to allow her to use the restaurant’s rest room, and calling her Miss Day. “Listen, honey, you have me confused.  I’m not Doris Day.  I’m Billie Holiday.  Lots of folks has said she and me resembles each other….”

Not all of what we hear is reliable information. Billie Holiday stopped touring with Artie Shaw in 1938, and Doris Day wasn’t well-known until 1945. One can charitably chalk up some of the insignificant errors in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” to the character Billie Holiday’s drug-addled memory, or to the real Holiday’s penchant for fabrication, as in her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, but this one rests squarely with the playwright.

BillieHolidayinherprime

Billie Holiday during her prime

Only the producers can answer why this play is being revived now, just a few months after Dee Dee Bridgewater’s portrayal of Holiday in Stephen Stahl’s similar play “Lady Day” Off-Broadway, and it would probably take a sociologist to explain why so many shows continue to be built around the sad ends of great talents, such as the nearly unwatchable performance of Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow on Broadway just two years ago.

McDonald is more watchable, although she deteriorates before our eyes, because “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” is much more of a genuine cabaret concert. She is backed by a competent trio:  Shelton Becton at piano, Clayton Craddock on drums and George Farmer on bass. Only Becton has a speaking role, portraying Holiday’s music director and fiancé Jimmy Powers. James Noone’s set attempts, unsuccessfully, to turn the huge, 700-plus-seat Circle in the Square into an intimate club,  placing some two dozen small tables around the small stage. But little of this matters, when McDonald is singing. She shares with her subject the ability to translate feeling — even feelings of misery — into something glorious.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill
Circle in the Square
By Lanie Robertson
Directed by Lonyy Price
Scenic design by James Noone, costume design by Esosa, lighting design by Robert Wierzel, sound design by Steve Canyon Kennedy, animal training William Berloni, musical arrangements by Tim Weil.
Cast: Audra McDonald, SheltonBecton, Roxie (that’s a dog.)

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill is set to run through August 10, 2014.
Musical numbers:
I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone
When A Woman Loves a Man
What a Little Moonlight Can Do
Crazy He Calls Me
Pig Foot (And A Bottle of Beer)
Baby Doll
God  Bless The Child
Foolin’ Myself
Somebody’s On My Mind
Easy Livin’
Stange Fruit
Blues Break
T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I do
Don’t Explain/What a Little Moonlight Can Do
Deep Song

LadyDaysign

Audra McDonald Back on Broadway as Billie Holliday

LadyDAy

Here is the poster for a newly announced show on Broadway. Five-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald will play Billie Holiday, for a 10-week limited engagement, in Lanie Robertson’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, directed by Lonnie Price. Previews begin March 25 at Circle in the Square, with an opening set for April 13, 2014.
The songs McDonald will sing include: “God Bless the Child,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Strange Fruit” and “Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness.”

The Sound of Music Recap

AudraMcDonaldSoundofMusic
Update: See the entire show below

Does this sound like The Sound of Music to you?

The Sound of Music is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with no overture. Instead there is the first of 22 songs (see song list at bottom) — and it’s not one you’ve hummed a thousand times, like Do-Re-Me (Do a deer, a female deer, re, a drop of golden sun…”), or The Sound of Music (The hills are alive with …). It’s called  Preludium, and it’s sung in Latin….and in a convent. Yet, thanks to Audra McDonald, it turned out to be a great start — even a highlight.

Another highlight: Audra McDonald singing Climb Ev’ry Mountain. Here’s a video of her doing it earlier at Rockefeller Center. Believe it or not, her live performance in the musical tonight was even more moving and powerful.

McDonald played Mother Abbess, which demonstrates what a person of such talent as McDonald can make out of a usually thankless role.

What about the rest of the Sound of Music, the three hour special on NBC?

The idea for a live, stage-version production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, based on the true story of the von Trapp family, came from the two creators of “Smash,”  Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. They recalled from their childhood the memorable live television events of Mary Martin performing in Peter Pan and Julie Andrews in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. And there is no question there was anticipation and excitement in the idea of such an event, even a manufactured one — enhanced rather than undermined by the opportunity to share the experience through Twitter. (The cast did have the unfortunate timing of having to perform just a few hours after the major downer of an actual event.)

It was also smart to use the stage version, which differs from the movie in interesting ways — darker, with a couple of songs omitted from the movie — although only true aficionados might notice. The production also benefited from a luscious design — both the costumes by Catherine Zuber and the set by Derek McLane — and some first-rate players, most of whom had the good fortune of being both major theatrical talents and also familiar faces on television. Above all, besides Audra LauraBenantionTVMcDonald,  this meant Laura Benanti, who played Elsa, the elegant rival for Captain von Trapp’s affection — so fabulous in Zuber’s ensembles that you wondered why the Captain would leave her for the pig-tailed youngster.  But it was a treat as well to see such stage pros like Christian Borle (best-known for Smash but and eight-time veteran of Broadway, most recently in Peter and the Starcatcher) and Kristine Nielsen (who was so wonderful in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) work their magic through six sets captured in the moment by a dozen cameras.

Click on photographs to see them enlarged

But Meron and Zadan seemed to miss a major lesson from the 1950s shows they remembered so fondly. Those shows starred Mary Martin and Julie Andrews.

On NBC, Carrie Underwood, the American Idol winner and country singer, played the lead role of Maria, the would-be nun who becomes a governess to seven motherless and insufferably adorable children, introducing music into a saddened household and falling in love with their father and her employer, the Captain. When Underwood was announced for the role made famous by Mary Martin on Broadway and Julie Andrews in the movie, there was a lot of nay-saying and snark. But the nay-sayers turned out to be largely on target.

Granted, there were some songs Underwood handled well, such as “The Lonely Goatherd” with all the yodeling.

Indeed, her singing was not the problem. It was her acting; she was never believable as Maria. To put this charitably, as my colleague Kevin Daly did, Carrie Underwood might have been better served by a TV version of Annie Get Your Gun, which would have played more to her strengths.

The publicity machine surrounding this “Sound of Music” made sure to let us know that, though Stephen Moyer may be known only as a vampire on True Blood, he has an extensive background in the theater; he’ even sung on stage. This may be, but his Captain seemed to me like a petulant wooden soldier compared to the easy authority of Christopher Plummer in the part in the 1965 movie, even though I haven’t seen that Julie Andrews vehicle in decades.

Was “The Sound of Music” a success? Will it mark the return of live theater to television? That surely will depend on the Nielsen ratings, and I don’t mean Kristine’s.

I call this a recap rather than a review, because nobody reads theater reviews, and everybody seems to consume television recaps avidly.

Songlist:

Preludium

The Sound of Music

My Favorite Things

Do-Re-Mi

Sixteen Going on Seventeen

The Lonely Goatherd

How Can Love Survive?

Reprise: The Sound of Music

he Grand Waltz

Landler

So Long, Farewell

Climb Ev’ry Mountain

No Way To Stop It

Something Good

Processional and Maria (The Wedding)

Reprise: Sixteen Going on Seventeen

Reprise: Do-Re-Me (the Concert)

Edelweiss (The Concert)

Reprise: So Long, Farewell (The Concert)

Finale Ultimo: Climb Ev’ry Mountain

End Credits

Update: The Sound of Music dominated the ratings for the entire three hours it aired. Roughly 18.5 million people saw it — better than any three-hour period on NBC in almost 10 years — and about 50 percent more than the attendance at all shows on Broadway for an entire year.