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A quarter of a century after making its original Broadway debut, this powerhouse of a play is back in New York, in a new, gorgeous production featuring an all-star cast. The 1993 and 1994 renditions both won the Tony for Best New Play, and the 2003 HBO miniseries took the Golden Globe and Emmy for its category. Does the revival match up? The Knick team saw a preview performance—well, performances, to be more accurate—to find out.
Here’s why Angels in America is still as meaningful today as it was 25 years ago.
Angels in America is actually two plays: Millennium Approaches, which opened in New York in 1993 after playing in San Francisco, London and Düsseldorf, and Perestroika, which opened later that same year. They tell the interweaving stories of several New Yorkers between 1985 and 1986, during the height of the Reagan years and the AIDS crisis.
In this current revival, theater-goers book tickets to the two plays at once. You can see them both in one day—with Millennium Approaches as a matinee and Perestroika in the evening—on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or see them over the course of two nights, either back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, or separated by a week over the course of two Sunday matinees.
Hollywood A-Lister Andrew Garfield plays Prior Walter, a WASPy esthete suffering from AIDS. Legendary screen and stage actor Nathan Lane is Roy M. Cohn, the real-life McCarthyist lawyer who kept his AIDS diagnosis a secret. The two actors bring a fiery energy to their characters, whom we watch go through the heartbreaking sickness.
Prior’s boyfriend, Louis (played by James McArdle), can’t bear to watch him decline, and takes comfort with a coworker, Joe (played by the perfectly stoic Lee Pace, a Drama Desk Award-winner), a Mormon from Salt Lake City who has his own secrets. Olivier Award-winner Denise Gough plays Harper, Joe’s agoraphobic wife, who suffers from depression and is addicted to Valium. Joe’s mother (Susan Brown), Prior’s best friend (a hilarious Nathan Stewart Jarrett), and a hospital nurse (among other roles…played by Amanda Lawrence), round out the cast of characters.
Angels In America is truly a character piece. During the two plays, the characters’ relationships with each other alter significantly, and roles that seemed minor take on deeper significance. There are deaths, hallucinations, visits from heaven, and visits to heaven. At every intermission—there are four in total—we heard audience members discuss their take on everything, who they had sympathy for, who they hated and who they adored.
Written in the early 90s and set specifically in the mid-80s, Angels in America is very much a period piece, ostensibly about death and destruction during Reagan’s America. But, as The New York Times states in its glowing review, Angels in America “blazes with a passion that is the opposite of morbid. Its subject…is life itself, and its defiant, forward-moving persistence through plagues and persecution, failing bodies and broken hearts.”
Angels in America is playing at the Neil Simon Theatre, just a short walk from The Knick. Join us before or after the show for cocktails at St. Cloud Social, our rooftop atop Times Square. For more information, ask The Knick’s concierge for help with tickets, or reserve from Angels in America website.
Looking for more theater in New York City? The Knick team regularly reports on the shows it sees, from new mega-hits like Frozen to classics like Chicago, and, of course, Hamilton. Check out our NYC travel guide for all of our Broadway reviews.