Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Review of "Young Frankenstein"

The big question on Broadway this year—besides when will the stagehand strike be settled—concerns the new Mel Brooks musical, “Young Frankenstein.” Will it live up to all its pre-opening hype? Will it be the critical and commercial success of Brooks’ last outing on Broadway with “The Producers?” Disappointingly, the answer is no. Sure, the advance sales will keep the SRO sign posted for months and months. But the production falls flat in a number of significant ways with only a few glimmers of maniacal and creative genius.

So, what’s the problem? First, and foremost, is Roger Bart as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein. Bart, who has been outstanding in supporting roles on Broadway—“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “The Producers”—lacks the comedic playfulness and repressed energy necessary to hold the show together. Instead of being the point person, in this highly talented ensemble of musical comedy veterans, Bart too often blends in with the pack, fading instead of shining. Secondly, the delivery of the best jokes and funniest scenes from the movie, which the show is based on, fall flat. Actually, flat may be kind. Most of the time there is a monumental thud. Again, I fault Bart for his bland intonation and total lack of comedic timing. Director Susan Stroman should also be blamed for allowing some of the most highly anticipated moments of the production to become mere throwaway lines.

Lastly, as I just stated, this has to be one of the most highly regarded musical comedy casts that has been assembled since…well, since “The Producers.” Each member has their moment—from Megan Mullaly’s beltings to Sutton Foster’s acrobatic schtick to Andrea Martin’s enigmatic Frau Blucher, but the flow and continuity of the production suffers while each actor, in a sense, takes their turn in the sun. In film, where a director can call for a close-up or two-shot, the actor’s on-screen presence can be totally controlled. In a big, Broadway musical the director and book writers do not have the luxury of homing in on a select few characters while the others simply stand around. Everyone on stage needs to be in the mix. Too often in “Young Frankenstein” it seems central cast members are just hanging about, almost loitering within the confines of Robin Wagner’s imposing sets.

So, is there anything positive to say about “Young Frankenstein?” Sure. This is not a Broadway bomb, far from it. Christopher Fitzgerald, as Igor, totally embodies the zaniness of his character, cavorting merrily about the Hilton Theater stage. Shuler Hensley is both menacing and hilarious as the monster. His big production number in “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” is the absolute highlight of the musical. If the inspired inventiveness and creativity of that scene was replicated throughout the show then “Young Frankenstein” would be elevated to comic brilliance.

As mentioned, Robin Wagner’s sets, especially Dr. Frankenstein’s vast laboratory, are outstanding. The rest of the creative team, from Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting designs to the sound design by Jonathan Deans to Marc Brickman’s special effects, also deserve kudos. Mel Brooks’ score has its moments, producing a titter here and there, but nothing to match the wit and acumen of “The Producers.” Likewise, Susan Stroman’s direction can be problematic; her choreography conventional and overall unsatisfying.

“Young Frankenstein,” entertaining and a pleasant diversion, but not the monster hit one had hoped for.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Review of the Broadway Musical, Xanadu

Xanadu, the first Broadway musical of the year, is…well, silly. Silly, daffy, and with a generous helping of camp, Xanadu seems like it would be more at home at the New York Fringe Festival or some Off-Broadway theatre in the Village. However, here it is, ensconced at the tiny Helen Hayes Theater providing a jolt of lovable lunacy for Broadway theatergoers.

Based on the 1980 movie flop of the same name, Xanadu tells the story of nine sisterly Greek muses (actually seven) who appear in Venice Beach, California to save and inspire the soul of a failed artist named Sonny. Led by the youngest of the group, Clio, who in her humanly form is now an Australian named Kira (remember the movie starred Australian Olivia Newton-John), the band of merry conspirators help Sonny fulfill his artistic vision by opening a roller disco. Yes, a roller disco. Remember, this is 1980. Throw in some evil shenanigans by two of the sisterly muses, the collusion of an aged real estate mogul and, of course, the forbidden love between Sonny and Kira, and you have the whole whacked out scenario.

Xanadu works, most of the time, due to its infectious joyfulness typified by the off-the-wall nuttiness in the opening number, “I’m Alive.” The show teeters on the verge of plunging down the abyss of excess but, through the strength of its nostalgic score and winning performances, rights itself time and time again.

The songs, especially for baby boomers like me, are a sheer delight. There is a generous helping of Electric Light Orchestra hits—“Evil Woman,” “Strange Magic,” and “All Over The World” along with soft rock standards by Olivia Newton-John such as “Magic,” “Have You Ever Been Mellow,” and the title song, “Xanadu.” They are delivered by an engaging cast headed by Kerry Butler as Kira. Butler, who came to prominence as the ditsy Penny Pingleton in the original cast of “Hairspray”, demonstrates her comic talents once again, as she sings and skates through Douglas Carter Beane’s stripped down and breezy book. Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, two theatrical veterans, are superb as the oft-kilter, maniacal muses plotting Kira’s demise. Cheyenne Jackson, who normally plays the creatively challenged artist, Sonny, was out of the show the night I went and Curtis Holbrook, his stand-in, was only serviceable at best. Tony Roberts, still pounding the boards, adds a bit of stability, just a bit, to the musical’s hijinks.

Director Christopher Ashley keeps the pulsating action flowing so effortlessly that the one and one-half hours of intermission less daftness breezily and carelessly flies by.

Xanadu, something out of the ordinary from your more traditional Broadway musical. Not necessarily a production for the unadventurous, but a satisfying dollop of sustained and entertaining silliness.

Monday, August 27, 2007

High Button Shoes at Goodspeed Opera House

Connecticut is home to a number of first rate theatrical companies. My favorite is the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. Their mission is twofold. First, is the advancement of musical theatre, which was the impetus for their original stagings of Man of LaMancha, Shenandoah, and Annie before they headed to very lengthy runs on Broadway. Second, is “the preservation… of musical theatre.” Since 1963 Goodspeed has presented well-known and beloved musical productions as well as lesser known gems. Their second offering this year, High Button Shoes, falls into the latter category.

This rarely produced Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn show, originally directed by George Abbot (who co-wrote the book) and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, revolves around con man Harrison Floy and his sidekick, Mr. Pontdue as they repeatedly attempt to bamboozle the populace of New Brunswick, NJ. Throw in the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights football team, a love story, the Keystone Kops, and a happy ending and you have the basic ingredients for this immensely pleasurable show.

Stephen Bienske embodies the scheming, slippery, flim flam artist, Harrison Floy (portrayed in the 1947 production by Phil Silvers) with a sophisticated and refined contemptibility. While he plays the role with perfect aplomb, his characterization would be more believable (and enjoyable) if there was somewhat of a sleazier edge in his depiction of Floy—think Silvers or Robert Preston (a la The Music Man). But I’m nitpicking. High Button Shoes is probably one of the best cast musicals I have seen at Goodspeed in years. Every actor and actress fits their role beautifully. From the young lovers, ingĂ©nue Russell Arden Koplin as Miss Fran Beck; and Brian Hissong, as football star, Hubert Ogglethorpe; to the poignantly portrayed Mama and Papa Longstreet, played by Jennifer Allen and William Parry.

Director Greg Ganakas manages to keep the action moving along, especially in the somewhat slow-moving First Act, building towards the Second Act one-two opener, the cheery, “On A Sunday by The Sea,” and the wild and frenetic “Keystone Kop Ballet,” a merry romp in and around Atlantic City’s bath tents and boardwalk. Augmenting Ganakas’ work is choreographer Linda Goodrich, once again demonstrating how a seasoned professional can take such a small space—both on and off stage—and create sheer dancing magic. Two other members of the creative team worth noting are scenery designer Howard Chrisman Jones, for his varied and fully conceived depictions of life around the turn-of-the-century; and costume designer Gregory Gale for a slew of gorgeous and sumptuous outfits. Bravo.

The score by the aforementioned Styne and Cahn has a number of exceptional tunes including “Papa, Won’t You Dance With Me,” “Nobody Ever Died For Dear Old Rutgers,” and “I Still Get Jealous.” The latter song, sung by Jennifer Allen and William Parry is a simple, heart-warming number with a bit of the old soft shoe. The two theater veterans command the stage with no pyrotechnics or overstuffed orchestrations to clutter their style. A pure joy to behold.

High Button Shoes, the perfect respite for the last days of summer. Now through September 22nd at the Goodspeed Opera House.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Anticipated Musicals for 07-08

I’m back. My wife and I were over in Europe for a few weeks and, while I had all the best intentions of writing my blog from some smoky Internet CafĂ© while sipping expresso and noshing on a delectable and flaky pastry, I just never found the time. Can you blame me? Tour the massive St. Stephen's Basilica’s in Budapest or roam the old quarter of Innsbruck, for example, or hang out for a few hours in front of a blinking computer screen? I think you get the picture.

Anyway, August is here and the start of the new Broadway season has already begun—the well-received “Xanadu,” the first musical of the year, is now encamped at the Music Box Theater. Perusing the list of upcoming shows, there are three I am looking forward to with much anticipation:

Young Frankenstein—probably the most anticipated new musical of the year. And why not? It’s the same creative team—Director/Choreographer, Susam Stroman; score and libretto by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meeha--that brought us the blockbuster version of that other Mel Brooks movie, “The Producers.” As with “The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein” boasts a dream cast—Roger Bart (“The Producers” and revival of “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”), as Dr. Frankenstein; Sutton Foster (“Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “The Drowsy Chaperone”, as Inga; Megan Mullally (revival of “How To Succeed…”), as Elizabeth (the Madeline Kahn role in the movie); Shuler Hensley (“Oklahoma” and “Tarzan”), as the Monster; and Andrea Martin (“My Favorite Year” and revival of “Fiddler on the Roof”), as Frau Blucher. There are probably more Tony winners in the cast than any show in Broadway history! If Brooks and company can, once again, reproduce the zaniness of the movie on stage a long run is in store. In addition to seeing such an accomplished group of actors on stage I am also looking forward to hearing the Mel Brooks score. Brooks has been writing songs for decades, even being nominated for an Academy Award for the title song from “Blazing Saddles.” The score for “The Producers” was quite good. Hopefully, lightning will strike twice.

The Little Mermaid—okay, you are probably wondering why I would be looking forward to another Disney kiddie musical. Well, there are a couple of reasons. No matter what you think of Disney’s invasion of Broadway over the years you cannot dispute the fact that all the shows have been first-rate, especially the production values. From the costumes in “Beauty and the Beast” to the puppet wizardry in “The Lion King” to the sets of “Aida” and “Mary Poppins” (I wasn’t a big fan of “Tarzan”), Disney shows have been a wonder for the eyes. So, I am VERY curious how they will produce the underwater kingdom of Ariel and company. Secondly, Sherie Rene Scott is one of the premiere actresses in musical theater. She more than held her own against Heather Headley and Adam Pascal in “Aida” and her peformance in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” jolted that show to life in the second act. As the wicked Ursula she should probably have the time of her life.

A Catered Affair--a new musical featuring the multi-talented Harvey Fierstein who not only is featured in the cast, but also wrote the book. Hmmm. Last time Mr. Fierstein wrote the book for a musical—“La Cage Aux Folles--he won a Tony Award. In fact, more times than not when Fierstein is involved with a Broadway show the production is a major hit and he ends up winning some type of Tony. In fact, is there any other person that has won as many different Tony Awards? He has a Best Actor in a play, Best Actor in a musical, Best Book of a musical, and Best Play. But Harvey Fierstein is only one, albeit large, reason to look forward to the show. The cast includes Tom Wopat, who was the best part of the Bernadette Peters revival of “Annie Get Your Gun” a few years back and the return of Faith Prince. It’s so sad that the economics of Broadway prevent such seasoned professionals as Ms. Prince from appearing on stage more often. The Director of the production is John Doyle, who has scored major artistic triumphs the past two seasons with his stagings of “Sweeney Todd” (didn’t like it) and “Company” (loved it).

Will any of these musicals, even with their well-pronounced pedigrees, hold up to the scrutiny of New York audiences? There’s no guarantee of a hit just because your last show was a smashing success or the talent level involved is in the stratosphere. That’s what’s great about Broadway—will the luck of the draw have you sit through an utter disaster (as in Paul Simon’s, “The Capeman”) or witness an artistic vision (as in the original “Dreamgirls,” for example). Only time will tell.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

What to See on Broadway?

I am consistently asked for recommendations on what Broadway musical to see. Friends, co-workers, relatives, acquaintances all seek my advice since I have seen just about every current musical now playing in New York and, since I bill myself as a hard-nosed critic, they think I know what I’m talking about. I am always happy to oblige, especially when the high cost of tickets are forcing occasional theatergoers and families to limit their excursions to the New York musical stage.

So, what are my top suggestions? I have broken them down into five categories;
Tikes – ages 6-9
Tweens – ages 10-13
Teen – ages 14-17
Young Adults – 18+ years
Adults


When I make a recommendation it is usually with the understanding that an individual or family has not been to the Broadway stage very often. Therefore, most of the shows on my lists are the tried and true. However, this is all an inexact science with numerous variables to consider. Is one seeking a musical comedy or more serious production? What might appeal to two or three age groups at the same time? My daughter is a mature eleven year old. What do we do about her?

I have not included “Wicked” or “Jersey Boys” as any of the primary choices since these shows are always sold out and you would have to pay a king’s ransom to acquire decent seats. Wait a few years for their sheen to wear thin, then procure tickets. Foul language can be sprinkled throughout a show which might limit your choices. Look at “Spring Awakening” where one song title is ‘Totally F*****.’ I try to make a note of excessive inappropriate language.

Within the listings there is considerable overlap. For example, “A Chorus Line” could enthrall everyone except, maybe, the Tikes. The age ranges of each category can be flexible at either end of the spectrum so a Tween may in fact be quite comfortable in a Young Adult show. You may scratch your head about why I left a certain production off a category. For example, “Chicago” is not listed in the top five of any category even though it has been playing for years and continues to do well at the box office. But “Chicago” is getting a bit old in the tooth and there are more worthy shows to plop down your money for. Finally, just because a musical is not on my lists does not mean it is undeserving of your patronage. Also, with new shows opening each year the rankings could change overnight. So, without further ado…drum roll please…

TIKES (6-9 years old)
Disney has this category all to itself. No matter what your feelings are about Disney’s theatrical presence you have to admit they know how to deliver the goods.
1. Beauty and the Beast – the first Disney show and a crowd-pleaser for the very young. Fun, entertaining, yet still scary, “Beauty and the Beast” is very faithful to its movie source. Hurry, the musical closes on July 29th.
2. The Lion King – Director Julie Taymor took a two-dimensional movie and turned it into a tour de force Broadway musical. The opening number is still one of the best in recent Broadway history (I won’t reveal why). Her use of puppetry brings to life the assorted characters in The Pride, inspiring awe and wonder among theatergoers, both young and old.
3. Mary Poppins – When I saw the show there was a bevy of very young children directly in front of me. They didn’t make a peep. Enough said.

TWEENS (10-13 years old)
There are a couple of shows for the older Tweens mixed in with the Tike choices from above.
1. A Chorus Line – Still the singular sensation. Some of the language may be inappropriate, but the dancing and stories of each hopeful is mesmerizing.
2. Lion King – see under TIKES.
3. Phantom of the Opera – Like the Energizer Bunny this Andrew Lloyd Webber warhorse goes on and on and on. Very theatrical with one of Webber’s most melodic and recognizable scores. And where else would you find a crashing chandelier.
4. Mary Poppins – see under TIKES. Might be a tad childish for this group, but the production values, special effects and music should keep them interested.
5. Hairspray – Pure family enjoyment with frenetic dancing and a first-rate, tuneful score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

TEENS (14-17 years old)
1. Spring Awakening – One of the seminal rock musicals with one of the best scores in years. Youthful, energetic cast makes this a must see. Language issues—one song is titled “Totally F*****” and there is a simulated rape scene.
2. Rent – Along with “Hair” and “Spring Awakening” one of the great Broadway rock musicals. Based on Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” “Rent” packs an emotional wallop along with a near perfect Jonathan Larson score.
3. Hairspray – see under TWEENS.
3. Legally Blonde – Personally, I’m not a great fan of the show, but if you have girls, especially if they have seen the movie, they will love it. Boys, see something else with dad.
4. A Chorus Line – see under TWEENS.
5. 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – The funniest musical on Broadway. Period. Also, every seat at Circle-in-the-Square is splendid so you don’t have to fret over location.

YOUNG ADULTS (18+ years old)
1. Spring Awakening – see under TEENS.
2. Rent – see under TEENS.
3. A Chorus Line – see under TWEENS.
3. Spamalot – Funny and silly. More for diehard Monty Python fans.
4. 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – see under TEENS.
5. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
5. Legally Blonde – see under TEENS.
5. Hairspray – see under TWEENS.

ADULTS
1. Spring Awakening – see under TEENS.
2. 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – see under TEENS.
3. A Chorus Line – see under TWEENS.
4. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
5. Rent – see under TEENS.
5. Mama Mia – Mindless fun. If you like the music of ABBA, a must. If not, there are always other shows to see.
5. Hairspray – see under TWEENS.
5. Spamalot – see under YOUNG ADULTS.

Still unsure? Email me at Broadway99@comcast.net with your specific situation and I can see what I can recommend.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Rock 'n Roll on Broadway

Rock ‘n Roll! Is the multi-Tony Award winning musical, “Spring Awakening,” with its high energy, rock-infused score, the wave of the future on Broadway? Or, to put it another way, is The Great White Way, possibly, a fertile breeding ground for rockers looking to stretch their artistic muscles? This was one of the themes in a June 24, 2007 column by Charles Isherwood in The New York Times (“On This Rock, Build a Future For Musicals”). The success of “Spring Awakening” could, according to Isherwood, “encourage more refugees from the rock and pop worlds to venture into theater.” This may occur but, historically speaking, Broadway has never attracted a considerable number of pop or rock composers to the musical stage even when the next influential rock musical opened to critical and popular success. This has been the pattern when the three seminal rock musicals—“Hair,” in 1968; “Rent,” in 1996; and now “Spring Awakening”—have opened. (I am not counting jukebox musicals or The Who’s “Tommy” and the Andrew Lloyd Weber-Tim Rice musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” since these are not what I would term ‘defining rock productions.’) The years following the openings of the three aforementioned shows has seen musicals more in the Tin Pan Alley tradition than in the rock ‘n roll vein.

There have been some notable forays by pop and rock artists on Broadway—the 1968 Burt Bacharach-Hal David smash, “Promises, Promises;” Roger Miller’s acclaimed 1985 score for “Big River;” Paul Simon’s 1996 Broadway flop, “The Capeman;” Phil Collins’ “Tarzan;” as well as Elton John’s incursion into legitimate theater with four shows to his credit—hits with “The Lion King,” “Aida,” and “Billy Elliott,” and a bomb with the recent “Lestat.”

What is intriguing about Isherwood’s argument is how the Internet may begin to finally change how pop and rock artists view the Broadway landscape. As with anything related to music today, selective downloading of songs could be the catalyst. People, like myself, visit iTunes to purchase, primarily, individual songs as opposed to whole albums. “If albums are soon to become all but obsolete,” Isherwood writes, “what are the ambitious artists to do with the more expansively conceived statements once known as concept albums?” One answer could be the Broadway musical stage.

Who do I think would have the ability, fortitude and gumption to carry out such an assignment? Well, considering my tastes and knowledge base are woefully stuck in the late 1970’s and 1980’s I would nominate:


  • Paul Simon. His score was the best part of the skewered, “The Capeman.” He should dust himself off, surround him with theater veterans and have a go at it one more time.


  • Paul McCartney. He’s already written one musical—the failed 1984 movie, “Give My Regards to Broad Street.” The former Beatle is so versatile, why not set out to conquer Broadway?


  • Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of the English rock group “Squeeze.” In their heyday the twosome were known as the Lennon-McCartney of New Wave.


  • Andy Partridge of the English group, “XTC.” Prolific songwriter who could almost certainly translate his artistic prowess to the musical stage.


  • Elvis Costello. Superior talent who could easily extend his intelligence and flair to Broadway.


  • Billy Joel. The piano man, in another era, would have been the toast of Broadway. Hey, he’s already won a Tony Award for Best Orchestration. Why stop there?


  • Elton John. Keep it up. Still batting .750!

The future of rock’s encroachment onto Broadway may not be too far off. The just announced stage musical of “Spider-Man” will have a score by Bono and The Edge of the supergroup, “U2.” Who’ll be next to step up to the plate?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Rest in Peace, Footlight Records

[PLEASE NOTE -- this post was originally uploaded on July 1, 2007. Since that time Footlight Records ended up not closing their Internet operations. On their website, http://www.footlight.com/, they just posted the following: We are proud to announce that Footlight Records will be relaunching on Friday, February 6, 2009 after being purchased by Bruce Yeko and Original Cast Records]

For weeks after the Tony Award ceremony, poorly performing shows shutter their doors and extinguish their glittering marquees. This year it seemed an unusually high number of Broadway productions ended their runs during this time. But there is one closing that is more heartbreaking than all the others combined. On July 4th Footlight Records, the quintessential record store for musical theater enthusiasts, will close its cyber-doors. Long a fixture in the East Village on 12th Street, then moving to Brooklyn, and finally becoming an Internet-only company, Footlight Records was THE place for aficionados of original cast recordings, especially rare and hard-to-find vinyl LPs.

A number of factors went into the decision by ownership. Astronomical rent increases, according to the store’s website, pushed the company further into debt. There was also the problem “that many smaller companies that produce cast recordings pre-sell their recordings at a discount price,” again as stated on their website. “This has probably cut into about 40% of our sales in cast CDs.” But maybe the most significant factor is the reality of today’s marketplace—more and more music is downloaded. CD sales are off which makes it harder for all types of record stores to keep their doors open. Even the giants are not immune. Look at Tower Records, once the mecca for the music buying public in New York City—gone!

Yet the seeds of Footlight’s demise began years ago and has affected all record stores with significant vinyl inventory. Simply, those outlets that traffic in used and/or virgin vinyl are a vanishing breed. Those of us that could think of nothing better to do than wile away the time browsing through racks and racks of undiscovered treasures are of a bygone era. There just aren’t enough of us to keep these places in business. Which is too bad. I have unearthed many original cast recordings in these environs, a number from musicals I had never heard of before which, for someone with over 800 cast recordings and other show-related music and CDs in their collection, is no small feat. For example, there was the little known Harold Rome show, “The Zulu and the Zayda” that appeared in a discount bin one day. Another time I found an odd duck—Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors singing songs from “Man of LaMancha,” perfect when I spotlight the cast album of the show and its many incarnations for one of my radio programs.

At Footlight Records—when they were a brick and mortar site--I spent countless hours rummaging through the used LPs and CDs. I marveled at the out-of-print and rare vinyl discs displayed on the walls. It truly was heaven…For the next few weeks the staff will be tying up loose ends. After that, the remaining stock will be on Amazon.com under the name Footlight.com. Rest in Peace, Footlight Records.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"It's A Bird...It's A Plane..." & Other Fav Cast Recordings

I was crestfallen last week. Due to family obligations, I could not attend New York City’s York Theatre Company’s production of the 1966 musical “It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman.” The first in their MUFTI series (MUFTI is defined as “in street clothes, without the usual trappings”), the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams Broadway flop ran for five performances this past weekend. Why was I so despondent? Because I count the original cast recording as one of my Top Ten favorites of all time. “It’s A Bird…” ran for a meager 129 performances when it opened on Broadway in the mid-1960’s, but the cast recording is fun, breezy, and tuneful.

Is it one of the best scores ever written? Hardly. But for some reason the score resonates with me and I play selections from the musical as often as I can on my radio program. This got me thinking—what are my favorite cast recordings? If I was on a desert island--just me and my iPod—what ten Broadway CDs would be loaded onto the device? As I leafed through the hundreds of CDs (and LPs) in my collection I realized that I would not include many of the “classics.” Shows, to name a few, such as “Kiss Me Kate,” “My Fair Lady,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “South Pacific”—gems, absolute perfection—did not make the cut. They contain some of the most memorable songs in Broadway musical history, and I enjoy listening to these cast recordings as well as sharing the music with my discerning audience, but most of my choices border on the unfamiliar to the average musical theater fan.

Reviewing my list, trying to determine the ‘why,’ I came up with some generalizations:

  1. I like quirky
  2. I connected with the show by seeing it live
  3. I’m a sucker for ‘feel good’ scores
  4. I gravitate towards bouncy, light-hearted
  5. None of the above


So, here’s my Top Ten, in alphabetical order:

Anything Goes – the 1987 revival cast recording with Patti Lupone, at her best, and Howard McGillin. Outstanding Cole Porter songs given a real sassy arrangement. I remember getting goose bumps when I saw the show at Lincoln Center and relive the moment every time I play the CD.

Babes in Arms – the 1999 Encores! production of the Rodgers and Hart triumph. Every song a masterpiece delivered with syncopated precision by the Coffee Club Orchestra.

Good News – I have the 1995 studio cast recording that added songs from the 1947 movie version as well as other nuggets from composer Ray Henderson. First-rate, toe-tapping, infectious score with one of my all-time favorite numbers, “The Varsity Drag.”

Grease – the original cast recording, not all the bastardized versions since then. My first Broadway show that I saw without my parents. One of the funniest and most entertaining musicals ever, beautifully preserved on the cast recording.

It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman – see above.

Oh, Brother! – monumental Broadway bomb (only three performances), based on Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and set in the Middle East. But a real spirited and frolicsome score by a cast that included Harry Groener and Judy Kaye.

Promises, Promises – the second musical I ever saw (after “Fiddler”)—the national tour in Washington, D.C. in December 1971 (why is it I can remember theater related dates, but can’t remember my wedding anniversary?). The only musical penned by popmeisters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The cast recording perfectly captures 1960’s musical sensibilities as well as a sumptuous score.

She Loves Me – pure magic with the incomparable Barbara Cook. One glorious number after another by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. Oh, did I mention Barbara Cook?

Sweeney Todd – this comes under #5. A haunting, yet playful, score by Stephen Sondheim that works well in all transfigurations. I prefer the original cast recording with the legendary Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou.

Tommy – one of my favorite rock albums (by The Who), turned into a sensational Broadway musical. The cast recording loses none of the power and energy from the live show.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Procuring Cheap Tickets for Broadway

Summer is here! And many of us will be venturing to The Big Apple to enjoy the New York theater scene. Unfortunately, over the years the cost for a ticket to Broadway or Off-Broadway has soared, making a trip to the theater a very expensive proposition. There are, however, a number of simple methods to obtain cheaper tickets—without having to settle for the nosebleed section. They can be broken down into Day of Show discounts and Advance Sale tickets.


DAY OF SHOW


TKTS Discount Booth -- Two locations, one downtown at the South Street Seaport, with the primary location in Times Square. The Times Square site, normally located in the middle of Broadway at 47th Street (Duffy Square), has been relocated to the Marriott Marquis Hotel at Broadway at 46th Street while a new structure is built at the Duffy Square location.


Patrons can line up to buy tickets for same day performances at up to 50% off (along with a $4.00 surcharge per ticket). The Booth opens at 3:00 p.m. for evening shows (earlier at the Seaport) and 10:00 a.m. for matinee performances. The lines start forming early. Be there at least one-half hour ahead of the opening. [PLEASE NOTE--With the newly reopened booth in Times Square you can now use Credit Cards along with Cash and Traveler's checks]


The TKTS Discount Booth usually has a wide selection of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, with the best availability being Tuesday-Thursday nights. The list of shows change constantly and are posted at the front of the Booth so you can review the selections before getting in line. Have two or three shows in mind in case your first hope is sold-out or has lousy seats. Don’t expect the sold-out shows to be listed or being able to choose your seat location. You take what is available. Also, don’t be afraid of the sometimes long lines. They move fast and you meet the most interesting people—from all over the world!


Rush and Standing Room Only Tickets -- Playbill.com has a great overview of Rush and Standing Room Only (SRO) policies on their website. Basically, both are sold on the day of performance, have a very limited quantity, and are subject to availability. Rush tickets are usually sold when a box office first opens for the day. SRO are designated spots—where one stands—in the back of the orchestra. Slots are limited and are normally available only if a show is sold-out. Many productions cater their Rush and SRO tickets to students with a valid ID.


Broadwaybox.com -- see below


School Discount Coupons -- see below


ADVANCE DISCOUNT TICKETS


Broadwaybox.com -- Great site. Lists discount codes for many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows (again, not the sold-out ones) that can be used to purchase tickets in advance, either over the phone or in person at the box office. At their website, click on the show of your choice. The listed information gives you the discount code (for example, CHBBX93), what the particular discount is (for example $66.25 instead of $111.25) the expiration of the discount, and how to order tickets (there will be a surcharge per ticket if ordered over the phone). The beauty of Broadwaybox.com, besides the price and ease, is you can choose your seat location (depending on availability). You can also print out the page with the discount code and bring it to the box office ahead of time or for the day of performance.


School Discount Coupons -- You’ve seen these rectangularly colored slips of paper in schools, community centers, and elsewhere. The discount price is emblazoned on the front of the coupon along with instructions on how to redeem them. You can procure tickets by either mailing in the coupon, along with your money and preferred attendance dates; bringing the coupon to the box office—in advance or day of—or via their website (again, a per ticket surcharge is affixed). A listing of all their available shows is online, but you cannot printout the coupons online. You have to track them down on your own.


CLOSING THOUGHTS


If buying tickets in advance, over the phone, compare the discount from Broadwaybox.com and the School Discount Coupons program for the best rate (each has about the same rather high per ticket surcharge). Broadwaybox.com has a slight edge since when ordering by phone you speak to a real live person about seat locaton. The School Discount Coupons system is automated and you get what the computer gives you.


For day of tickets, compare all the discount programs--Broadwaybox.com, School Discount Coupons, and the TKTS Discount Booth--to see which offers the best deal (Rush and SRO will almost always have the most inexpensive rate, but not the best seat location or availability). Depending on the discount, going to the box office with the Broadwaybox.com printout or the School Discount Coupon is preferable since you:


  • do not pay any per ticket surcharge
  • do not need to stand in a possibly long line
  • can choose your seat location

Monday, June 11, 2007

2007 Tony Award Telecast

Well, the 2007 Tony’s are now history. The telecast? Matter-of-fact. Warm and inviting. Like a cozy cup of cocoa in front of the fireplace. Some good production numbers from nominated shows, and some duds (see below). I don’t care for the host-less show. Even though their primary purpose is to attempt a Billy Crystal type opening number, a host does add continuity; a thread throughout the evening.


This year’s musical winners were very predictable. The biggest surprise? David Hyde Pierce for Curtains. While he is the main reason to see this rather tepid Kander-Ebb-Holmes show I thought Raul Esparza deserved the award for Best Actor in a Musical for his intense portrayal of Bobby in the revival of Company. My only other surprise was Bill T. Jones for Best Choreography for Spring Awakening. While adding to the edginess of this rock-infused musical, I thought Jerry Mitchell would win out for his highly energetic production numbers for Legally Blonde—The Musical.


So, what about the musical selections from this year’s Best Musical and Best Musical Revival nominated shows? First, I think it’s important to ask what is the point of these five minutes of national exposure? Is it to showcase one of the stars from the show? To make sure the entire cast is seen frolicking on stage whether it’s coherently structured or not? Or is it to choose that singular sensation of a production number that will generate huge ticket sales to all those visitors coming to New York this summer? For me, it’s a no-brainer—give the TV audience the razzle dazzle! So…which shows succeeded? Which musicals blew it? A critique:


Best Musicals
Mary Poppins
“Chim Chim Cher-ee” was a great choice—recognizable song, spotlighting the stars—Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee--and great dancing…until the end of the number when the segment producer decided to add the rest of the cast members (including the statue guy) to prance around the stage, spoiling the enchanting moment.


Grey Gardens
What do you do when a show has no splashy musical number to choose from? In this case, showcase the star. So having Christine Ebersole sing “The Revolutionary Costume For Today” was appropriate even though it only gave the viewer a taste of her tour de force performance. Partially successful.


Curtains
The best production of the night—“Show People” was a solid song from the musical, that featured the whole cast cavorting on stage, David Hyde Pierce in his likeable best, and spirited dancing. For a show that received lukewarm reviews at best, Curtains dazzled and left viewers wanting more.


Spring Awakening
At first I was disappointed when Lea Michele began the song, “Mama Who Bore Me,” but was extremely pleased when the first bars of “The Bitch of Living” (my favorite song from the show) started up soon after. But the number soon degenerated into a pogo-ing mess. I couldn’t help but think people in the hinterlands wondering what all the fuss is about.


Best Revival of a Musical
Company
While Raul Esparza’s performance was riveting they should have chosen a number that played to the show’s strength—namely how the actors and actresses play their own instruments. A perfect song would have been “You Could Drive A Person Crazy”—a more tuneful and playful song.


A Chorus Line
The show had the advantage of opening the night with a fanciful version of “I Hope I Get It” outside Radio City Music Hall that morphed into the finale, “One,” indoors on the gargantuan Radio City stage. Great production number. Great way to start off the night.


110 in the Shade
Any song with Audra McDonald singing is pure joy. But 110 has so many better Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt tunes than the one showcased, “Raunchy.” What about “Love, Don’t Turn Away?” Or “Simple Little Things?” Or “Wonderful Music?” Missed opportunity.


What do you think?