Sunday, November 21, 2010
The musical treats Andrew Jackson as a rock star, which may sound like a stretch in describing someone from the early-19th century. However, according to Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, John Meacham, “the Jackson movement was to American politics in the 1820’s and 30’s what rock ‘n’ roll was to American culture in the 1950’s and 60’s: young, raw, unsettling.”
Embodying the spirit of the title character is Benjamin Walker, who portrays Jackson as a real rock star. He struts around the stage in tight black jeans exuding charisma and sex appeal. One of his big numbers is simply entitled, “Rock Star.” Walker’s Jackson is a rebel rouser, war-like, and childish. As with the rest of the cast there is a slightly unpolished edge to the performance.
The score by Michael Friedman is loud, raucous yet tuneful with a sprinkling of heartfelt ballads mixed in throughout the show. The actors don’t just sing the songs, but more attack them.
The 90 minute, intermission-less musical, with a book by Alex Timers, who also doubles as director, glosses over Jackson’s life, focusing on his pre-Washington, D.C. days in his native Tennessee, his bloody assault on American Indians, and his years in the White House. At times satirical and mocking, the show sometimes has the feel of a rambunctious college show, rough yet passionate. For such a short length Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson does drag towards the end as he finally attains the Presidency of the United States. The earlier plateau attained by the cast just can’t be maintained at such an exuberant level.
Still, even with its sporadic shortcomings Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson enlivens and entertains, while at the same time affording the opportunity to showcase the talents of a new generation of Broadway artists.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Since most theater-goers would probably be unfamiliar with the infamous case as with the minstrel show itself, the show’s producers have included a short, well-written insert in every Playbill. The four page brochure gives context and insight to the Scottsboro legacy.
The staging of the show is simple, yet powerful with just a few chairs and some wooden planks for sets. This allows the story to unfold without any unnecessary distractions. Most of the talented cast play multiple roles and they work together as a finely tuned ensemble. The main standout is Joshua Henry as the principled and fiery, Haywood Patterson. Also notable are Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon portraying the minstrel show stalwarts, Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo. They play a number of outrageous and cartoonish characters that serve to both accentuate and mock this miscarriage of justice.
Director Stroman keeps the movement fluid and pulsating, only lagging slightly about two-thirds through the intermission-less production. As choreographer, she conveys the urgency and tension the nine Scottsboro boys are experiencing.
The score, one of the last for the long-time team of John Kander and Freb Ebb, while not one of their best still shows them at the top of their game and, as they have done on such musicals as Cabaret and Chicago, that they are unafraid to tackle provocative topics.
Interestingly, with all the passion and compelling moments on stage there is a more emotional detachment with the characters and their plight. We are not uncompassionate, just the opposite. However, as the action unfolded I found myself as someone looking in, an observer, as opposed to becoming more emotionally involved. Is this a detriment to the musical? Not totally, but a more impassioned connection with the actors could have elevated the production to a different level.
The Scottsboro Boys will challenge you and be uncomfortable at times—sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry--but its message and inspired presentation make it a worthwhile and rewarding theatrical event.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
The two character play revolves around Robert, the aged actor, played wonderfully by Patrick Stewart; and the younger actor, John, played with buoyant enthusiasm by T.R. Knight. The thrust of A Life in the Theatre is the relationship between the two thespians. Robert, subtlety and at times indirectly, begins to impart nuggets of advice from his years of experience in the theater to the youthful, unseasoned John. Over the course of the one and one-half hour intermission-less show the bond between Robert and John strengthens, but then takes a new direction as John becomes more confident with his acting skills and place in the theater. Other opportunities begin to come his way and, consequently, their relationship flip flops as Robert begins to languish in John’s shadow.
The problem with A Life in the Theatre, and there are many, begins with the chemistry, or lack thereof, between Patrick Stewart’s Robert and T.R. Knight’s John. While both men are fine actors, these are not meaty roles they can sink their teeth into. Their evolving relationship never materializes into anything we care about. The emotional connection with the audience is non-existent. T.R. Knight is too self-assured right from the start so the equilibrium between the two is never off-balance.
The play is presented as a series of short, sometimes very short, blackouts. Some of the vignettes are ten minutes in length while others are just a minute or two (I think I clocked on scene at 30 seconds). I lost count after 12 or so even though I did read somewhere there are 26 blackouts. A scene would end, the stage crew would either remove or push into place some scant scenery, the two actors would return to the stage, and the process would repeat itself. This device fractured the flow of the production, never allowing it to find its rhythm. Director Neil Pepe does a fine job orchestrating the comings and goings on stage, but Mamet’s script doesn’t allow him to do any more or less.
A Life in the Theatre is more a valentine to the theatrical world. There is a lot of dressing up in the show—each man gets to try on an assortment of costumes, wigs, and facial hair, as well as employ a number of accents throughout the production. But with its paper thin quality, lack of chemistry, and fragmentary structure, A Life in the Theatre is one theater class you can skip.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The most obvious answer is the still unsettled economy, which has a cascading effect downward on discretionary spending—as in costly theater tickets. Less money to spend produces a lower demand for full-priced tickets at the box office, which translates to more tickets being available at the half priced booth.
There are also more seasonal factors to consider. October through early December (discounting Thanksgiving week) is the beginning of the annual slowdown for New York theaters. Tourists are in shorter supply and the weather is beginning to become colder and more unpredictable. Lastly, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings are less attended then the weekend performances.
So, what does this mean for the average theater-goer? Based on my unscientific research of one night’s postings at the Duffy Square Booth I would suggest now is a good time to take in a Broadway show. Yes, the lines can look long, but they move quickly. I have almost always met the most interesting people in the queue—both out-of-towners and well as foreign visitors—which makes the waiting time fly by. Many productions on Tuesday nights have a 7:00 p.m. start time and, therefore, an earlier completion. This makes for a more reasonable bedtime, especially for us older attendees. With a few of the recently opened shows lasting only 1 ½ hours (no intermission), a Tuesday night out is more in the realm of possibilities.
Some words of advice--aways have at least three choices of shows in mind before stepping up to the window to purchase the reduced tickets. Why would this be necessary if your first choice is listed on the constantly changing sign boards surrounding the booth? Availability only means seats are on-hand. The type of seats can vary from center orchestra to the far sides of the theater to the rear mezzanine. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you ask about location before you hand over your payment (which does now include credit cards). If side orchestra seats are offered I would suggest nothing higher then seats 13 or 14 (the aisle seats, depending on which side of the theater, will start with 1 or 2. Count over from there -- 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, etc. or 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. The higher the number the more to the side you will sit). The attendant may be a bit gruff by all your questions since he or she wants the line to keep moving and doesn’t want to spend precious time haggling or explaining, but don’t be intimidated. It’s your money. I had friends that just went in to see Fela and they didn’t ask. They ended up being so far on the right side of the orchestra the show was hard to enjoy. They should have simply gone to their second choice.
So, if you have the time, the money, and the inclination this is probably one of the better times to head to NYC for a taste of Broadway (or Off-Broadway, also sold at the Duffy Square location).
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Frank Loesser has penned some of the most memorable and melodic scores in Broadway history, including Where’s Charley, Guys and Dolls, and his 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning gem, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, now receiving a spirited production at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.
The satirical look at big business centers around J. Pierpont Finch, a window washer who, guided by the precepts in his handy guide, aptly titled "How to Succeed in Business," slowly rises to the top of the corporate ladder. The book of the musical is well-crafted, playful, and spiced with some humorous nostalgic references.
Brian Sears stars as Finch, but lacks the charisma and ingratiating personality necessary for the character to work. This is not to say that Sears is not a talented individual with a solid singing voice, but instead of rooting for him on his meteoric climb to the top there is more a feeling of indifference. The romantic subplot between Sears and Rosemary Pilkington, played with self-assured aplomb by a beautifully appealing Natalie Bradshaw, is listless and lacks any chemistry.
This is truly unfortunate since the entire supporting cast is superb, among them Erin Maguire as the sassy secretary, Smitty; Nicolette Hart as the sexy bombshell, Hedy LaRue; Tom Deckman as the scheming momma’s boy, Bud Frump; and Ronn Carroll as the boisterous president of World Wide Wickets, J.B. Biggley.
Director Greg Ganakas molds the large cast into a cohesive unit, beautifully incorporating Adrian Jones’ multi-functioning set into the flow. Jones’ scenic design deserves a special nod as they evoke a cool 1960’s modernist style that never overpowers the show. My one small complaint deals with the pacing of the production. At times it seemed a half step slow, missing a certain sense of liveliness.
Choreographer Kelli Barclay expertly maximizes the small space of the Goodspeed stage with wonderfully satisfying results. Her added flourishes to “Coffee Break,” for example, are inventive and highly rewarding.
Whatever the shortcomings of How to Succeed, and don’t let me give you the impression that the musical is not first-rate entertainment, there is always the Frank Loesser score where every song is a gem. From the opening notes of the title song to the comical duet of “The Company Way,” the flirtatious “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” the rah rah of “Grand Old Ivy,” Finch’s self-centered and mischievous ode to himself “I Believe in You,” as well as the rousing “Brotherhood of Man," my foot didn’t stop tapping during the entire show.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 28th.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Very shortly, however, Rylance’s Valere stumbles on to the stage where he delivers what is, in essence, a 25-30 minute stream of consciousness monologue that brings down the house. Hyde Pierce and Stephen Ouimette, as friend and colleague, Bejart, are helpless, or is that hapless, prisoners to the verbal somersaults and shenanigans of Rylance’s Valere, attempting throughout his demented discourse to garner a word in edgewise, to very limited success.
This dizzying display of theatrical wordplay and buffoonery sets the stage for the clash between the cultured, and somewhat snobbish, art of Elomire and the more populist appeal of Valere’s malformed creations. An underlying theme Hirson tackles in La Bete is the judgement of artistic worthiness—who is to say what is meritorious or not? In La Bete the anointed arbiter of art is the royal princess, played with regal and brattish delight by UK star Joanna Lumley. She craves the association with Elimore’s more cultivated troupe, but sheepishly enjoys the lowbrow plays of Valere. Through incessant prodding by Elimore the princess agrees to chose between the two.
Director Matthew Warchus once again demonstrates, as he did with recent Broadway comedies God of Carnage and Boeing-Boeing, his deftness and skill in working with a lively cast of characters. He keeps the show percolating. Unfortunately, while La Bete can be painstakingly funny the show’s overall momentum can only be sustained while Rylance is the center of attention with his unceasing blather and simpleminded merriment. There’s no way the comedic intensity that consumes the first 30 minutes of the production can be maintained. That’s not to say the intermission-less production is not entertaining. On the contrary, the show, with David Hyde-Pierce at his side-splitting best, and the rest of the cast game for, well, almost anything, La Bete provides a rollicking good time for theatergoers.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Below is my Top Ten list. Mostly musicals, the list includes shows with powerhouse casts, a taste of Star Trek, Harry Potter singing, a couple of superheroes, and a bit of Pee-Wee for good measure. Here, now in alphabetical order, the Broadway productions I most want to see.
A LIFE IN THE THEATRE
I am not a huge David Mamet fan, but his A Life in the Theatre is uncharacteristic Mamet meaning the characters are not cursing ever other word. More importantly, I am a huge Star Trek fan so the Broadway premiere of Mamet’s drama, which stars Jean-Luc Picard, I mean Patrick Stewart, and T.R. Knight from Grey’s Anatomy, is something to rejoice. Seriously, Stewart’s appearance on the Broadway stage is few and far between so his return is most welcome. Beam me up for this one.
First Preview: scheduled for September 23, 2010
Scheduled opening: October 12, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 2, 2011 closing.
One of my top ten (maybe five) musicals of all-time is the 1987 revival of Anything Goes with Patti Lupone and Howard McGillin. The casting was perfect, the Cole Porter tunes, the staging, everything was just so right. I remember getting goose bumps during the overture. So, why would I include an upcoming revival of a musical that I hold so near and dear? Two words: Sutton Foster. If there is an actress tailor made for the role of Reno Sweeney then it is the multi-talented Ms. Foster—actress, singer, comedienne, and dancer. It’s almost like most of her other starring roles in past Broadway musicals—Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Shrek (but not Young Frankenstein where her talents were so wasted)—have been preparation for her star turn in Anything Goes.
First Preview: scheduled for March 10, 2011
Scheduled opening: April 7, 2011
DRIVING MISS DAISY
Last season Denzel Washington recreated one of James Earl Jones signature roles, that of Troy Maxson, in a revival of August Wilson’s drama, Fences. So, happily (coincidentally?) Jones is returning the favor by heading back to the stage in a revival of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Driving Miss Daisy. But James Earl Jones is just one part of the dream cast for this production which will also be starring acting legend, Vanessa Redgrave and four-time Tony winner Boyd Gaines. I can’t wait for the acting master class to begin!
First Preview: October 7, 2010
Scheduled opening: October 25, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 29, 2011 closing.
One of the highlights from the 2008-2009 theater season was the Off-Broadway production of the musical Enter Laughing at the York Theatre Company. The show, in reality, a revival of the failed 1976 musical, So Long 174th Street, was hysterical and featured a comic tour de force by the young actor, Josh Grisetti. A Broadway run has been announced for 2010-2011, but little else has been revealed. I am assuming Grisetti will once again star as the stage struck teenager trying to break into show business, especially since his Broadway debut, in Broadway Bound last year, was derailed. It would be great if members of the York production also made the trip to Broadway. That cast included Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, Marla Schaffel, and Bob Dishy and they were terrific.
First Preview: To Be Announced
Scheduled opening: To Be Announced
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
In addition to being a Trekker I am a huge Harry Potter fan so I was intrigued, as well as excited, when it was announced that Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe would be making his Broadway musical debut in the 50th anniversary revival of Frank Loesser’s, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He has big shoes to step into, following in the footsteps of Robert Morse (1961) and Matthew Broderick (1995). Can the teenage Gryffindor sing? Will his J. Pierrepont Finch have an American accent? Will he be an English lad on assignment at the World Wide Wicket Company? Maybe the “Coffee Break” will be replaced with a friendly inter-office game of Quidditch? Radcliffe wasn’t much of a dancer at the Triwizard Tournament Ball, but that will probably change with Director/Choreographer Rob Ashford at the helm. BTW, did I mention the luscious Frank Loesser score?
First Preview: February 26, 2011
Scheduled opening: March 27, 2011
IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S SUPERMAN
One of my favorite original cast recordings is the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. The fourth Broadway score from the duo—following their Broadway debut, Bye Bye Birdie; the flop, All-American; and the semi-success, Golden Boy. 1966—Superman was another dud for the team. Most people blame Batman. The enormously successful, campy television show opened around the same time and took the thunder from the musical. Still, the score is fun and tuneful.
Enter the Dallas Theater Center which mounted a slightly modified version this summer—revised book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and some newly added songs—to very positive reviews. Starring Broadway’s Matt Cavenaugh, the word on the street is the production is looking north to Metropolis. Nothing firm. Just talk, for now. Let’s hope The Man of Steel returns for another try on The Great White Way. It’s big enough to handle two super heroes this season.
First Preview: Unknown
Scheduled opening: Unknown
LOVE NEVER DIES
Has it really been 22 years since The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway? The last of the over-sized London imports just keeps chugging along. Now comes the sequel—Love Never Dies, a continuation of The Phantom story set in Coney Island. Having already opened in the West End, to generally positive reviews, the Broadway version must overcome some discouraging history, namely sequels have not found much success on Broadway. The musical graveyard is filled with failed sequels, going all the way back to 1933 with the Gershwin’s Let ‘Em Eat Cake (sequel to Of Thee I Sing). Other flops on the sequel landscape have included Bring Back Birdie, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, and Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge. Still, for the millions of us that have seen The Phantom of the Opera over the past 20 years, can we really resist his lure a second time?
First Preview: To Be Announced
Scheduled opening: April 2011
THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW
I admit I am a huge Pee-Wee Herman fan--from the late 1980’s children’s show to his big screen escapades in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-Wee. So, I am both intrigued and enthusiastically expectant about The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway. How will Paul Reuben’s man-child transform his celluloid persona to the live stage? Well, I’ll be in my chairy at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre to find out.
First Preview: October 26, 2010
Scheduled opening: November 11, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled December 5, 2010 closing.
SPIDER-MAN, TURN OFF THE DARK
Probably the most anticipated musical of the past few years. Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, should finally make its way to Broadway at the end of the year, now that all the financing is in place. Can the genius of Julie Taymor score a hit with Spidey in what will probably be the most expensive musical in Broadway history? And what about a score by U2’s Bono and The Edge? There have been rock scores in the past, but no group with the worldwide stature and appeal of U2 has ever written specifically for Broadway (I don’t count Tommy since it started life as a Who album; same with Green Day’s American Idiot). Lastly, let’s not discount the special effects and sets which will, again, probably be something we haven’t witnessed before on a New York stage.
First Preview: November 14, 2010
Scheduled opening: December 21, 2010
WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
As Phil Rizzuto would cry, “Holy cow!” Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, AND Sherie Rene Scott all in the same cast? I can’t remember a Broadway musical with such star power in one show. Enough said!
First Preview: October 2, 2010
Scheduled opening: November 4, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 23, 2011 closing.
Will all these productions open this season? Probably not. Will those that do be hits? Again, nyet. Will there be other shows that will steal the limelight? Most indubitably. Stay tuned.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Bringing such an iconoclastic, bigger-than-life personality as Zero Mostel to life is no easy feat, but Jim Brochu, in his one man show, Zero Hour, thoroughly captures the essence of Mostel the comedian, actor, and painter.
The painting studio is the setting for the show as Mostel grudgingly sits for an interview with an unseen reporter. Actually, sitting would be the wrong word as Brochu, a large man himself, just like Mostel, is constantly in motion on the small stage at the Actor’s Temple Theater, an actual synagogue that rents out its sanctuary space part of the week as an Off-Broadway theater. Sparring with the reporter, peppering his answers with good-natured ribbing, we slowly get to know the Zero Mostel behind the exuberance and gaiety portrayed on stage and screen. We learn about his loving marriage to a Catholic woman, a move that exiled him from his highly religious, Jewish parents. Even on his mother’s deathbed she would not forgive his transgression. There is the beginning of his high-spirited and flamboyant career, first in nightclubs and then onto the stage.
The most moving and dramatic part of the 90 minute, intermission-less production centers around the Hollywood blacklist. Not only was Mostel ensnared in the hysteria produced by the hearings and recriminations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Senator Joseph McCarthy, but so were many of his friends and colleagues. Flourishing careers were snuffed out in a heartbeat while others committed suicide. The more fortunate actors, such as Mostel, were out-of-work for only a couple of years, but still shunned by many of his acting brethren. At one point during the show Mostel relives the seemingly doomed out-of-town tryouts of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Brought in to fix the musical is Jerome Robbins, a man who named names to the Committee on Un-American Activities, sending many of Mostel’s friends on the path to oblivion. A pariah in the actor’s eyes, he agrees with producer Hal Prince to let Robbins work his genius to save the show, but not without delivering, at the first rehearsal, a blistering speech eviscerating the acknowledged director/choreographer for his past deed.
The back-story of Forum as well as his recollections of Fiddler on the Roof are just a small part of Zero Hour. There is no singing or dancing. The production is really about the Zero Mostel the public never knew—the suffering and tortured artist who, in reality, just wanted to be a painter.
Jim Brochu, who also wrote the show, eerily conjures up Mostel in both speech and girth. Friends in real life, Brochu serves himself well by not trying to recreate memorable moments from Mostel’s past that could easily turn into parody or self-serving aggrandizement. Instead, he keeps the audience enraptured with personal stories that captivate, enthrall, and charm.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
In addition to rehearsals, costuming, lighting and all the other components of putting on a shoestring budgeted show, everyone involved has to pitch in to help raise funding. According to Steven, the way the festival works is they turn funding over to each of the shows. “We are required to raise a minimum of $3,000 before the festival itself will aid in our funding,” he said. “So we’re using a program, along with most of the other productions, called Kickstarter. This program enables us to reach out to friends and family and ask them to pledge a donation.” To pledge via Kickstarter you just need an Amazon.com payment account, which you can sign up for quickly if you don’t have one. No pledge is too small. In fact, you can even donate $1.00 to become an official Off-Off-Broadway backer. Just remember--these are donations as opposed to an investment opportunity. If the production does not reach its $3,000 goal your credit card is not charged.
So why not considering taking the plunge? Support the arts. Support the New York Fringe Festival. Support the ambition of a newly minted college grad.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Anyone who viewed the Tonys knows there was a heavy presence of A-List Hollywood actors, both in the audience and in the winner’s circle. Carrying away the prized medallion were Denzel Washington (Best Actor in a Play for Fences), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Best Actress in a Musical for A Little Night Music) and Scarlett Johansson (Best Supporting Actress in a Play for A View From the Bridge). It’s no wonder that a backlash against “those people” has been building. Actor Hunter Foster has even started a Facebook group, Give the Tonys Back to Broadway!! Over 6,300 people have joined.
But has Hollywood really taken over Broadway? This past season there were many actors more associated with the film industry on stage then in year’s past. However, while movie stars sell a lot of tickets they don’t always receive the accolades and awards. Were either Hugh Jackman or Daniel ‘James Bond’ Craig nominated for their performances in A Steady Rain? Antonio Banderas, while nominated in 2003 for a Best Actor in a Musical Tony for his performance in the revival of Nine, lost out to a theater stalwart, Harvey Fierstein. The list can go on and on.
More importantly to the discussion--is the Hollywood label even accurate or fair? Let’s examine a couple of high profile examples. First, Angela Lansbury. Would anyone doubt Ms. Lansbury is anything but a person of the theater? She’s won five Tonys. However, she came to the world of musical theater when she was just about 40 years old, having first made a splash in such films as Gaslight, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Manchurian Candidate, among others. She was 41 when she starred in Mame. Were people hopping mad that this film star was taking away plum roles from theater veterans? Or should we label Ms. Lansbury a television personality? She did star in Murder, She Wrote for 12 years. The point is Angela Lansbury is an actress who easily moves between film roles, the stage and TV and, rightfully so, should not be pigeonholed into one specific category.
Next up—Hugh Jackman. We all know Jackman epitomizes movie stardom, with big budget action films and romantic period pieces. But Jackman began his career as a musical song and dance man in his native Australia, appearing in such shows as Beauty and the Beast and Sunset Boulevard. He hit the big time playing Curly in the acclaimed 1998 National Theatre’s production of Oklahoma in London. From there, the movie industry beckoned and two years later he was Wolverine in the blockbuster, X-Men. The rest, as they say, is history. So, when Jackman makes his occasional foray to Broadway is he seen as a Hollywood interloper, or a multi-talented actor looking to vary his career opportunities or go back to his roots? Remember, he did wow Broadway in his Tony award winning performance in 2004’s The Boy From Oz.
A more productive argument should be about the appropriateness of a role for an actor—remember Madonna in David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow--as opposed to silly arguments centered around classifying and labeling. All three “Hollywood” stars who won Tony Awards this year received rave reviews. They were well-suited for their roles. So, shouldn’t we be celebrating the opportunity to see them live instead of whining about “them” taking away plum roles from “theater people?”
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Yes! I called it. The choice for Best Musical makes sense. MEMPHIS is the most straightforward of the four nominated shows and should tour well. MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET was never really in the discussion and while AMERICAN IDIOT and FELA! have substantial merits neither one of them garnered enough acclaim to merit snagging the big prize.
-Sean Hayes did better than I originally would have thought as host.
-The telecast finished on time. Not too shabby.
-The major presenters towards the end did have their speeches truncated. Why don’t they limit those winners at the beginning of the show?
-Big night for Hollywood stars. Good or bad?
-Overall grade: B-
My ears are pounding all the way in Connecticut after the AMERICAN IDIOT number. I can’t wait to see the audience reaction when this show tours. You do have to admit it was a great song to promote the musical to the young masses.
So how does one get the stars of THE ADDAMS FAMILY—Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane--on stage? Get them to present the Tony for Best Actor/Actress awards. Whoa! Shocker. Catherine Zeta-Jones winning Best Actress. I had my money on Montego Glover for MEMPHIS. Well, at least Douglas Hodge puts normality back to the awards by winning Best Actor.
10:35 p.m. Posting--
Great number by Matt Morrison! Really injected some zip into the broadcast. Can you say 2011 Tony Award host? Was Lea Michele auditioning for lead in the projected revival of FUNNY GIRL? Put a windscreen on the microphone.
You have to say one thing for Sean Hayes, he does seem he is having a lot of fun out there.
Question--how many Broadway producers can you fit on the stage of Radio City Music Hall?
You can tell time is running short so keep those acceptance speeches short or experience the fate of the LA CAGE acceptors
10:15 p.m. Posting--
Was that Sahr Ngaujah wailing on the sax at the end of the spirited number from FELA!?
Bill T. Jones, a deserving winner for Best Choreography for FELA! COME FLY AWAY, while great dance routines, I prefer dance within the context of a book musical. I thought it was interesting that PROMISES, PROMISES was nominated in this category since one of my big complaints about the musical was its lack of choreography. Interesting about the number they showcased--it takes place during the show’s overture.
10:00 p.m. Posting--
The opening snippets of musicals was a bit bland. I love the musical GREEN DAY, but their mini-concert, while highly entertaining, was just a bit out of place. Good pyrotechnics, though!
First award—Best Featured Actress in a Play goes to Scarlett Johansson. Didn’t she say she couldn’t think of anything to say? So why was her thank you SO LONG?
I think the way the Best Play nominees were presented—short, staccato commentary by the two lead actors/actresses along with a computer generated set of the show--was very well done. The two guys from NEXT FALL were hysterical. Give them their own network television show.
Was it just me or were you also getting more and more uncomfortable as Terry Johnson went through his acceptance speech for the Best Director Tony for LA CAGE AUX FOLLES? Between not looking at the camera and manhandling the award I thought he was going to collapse.
Mark Sanchez, quarterback of the New York Jets did an admirable job introducing the MEMPHIS production number. By far the best of the night—energetic, tuneful song that enveloped the stage. Too bad the other excerpts weren’t as lively.
I love Kristen Chenoweth. Great bit with Sean Hayes introducing Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is beautiful and delivered a haunting rendition of “Send in the Clowns.”
Best Revival of a Play introductions—ditto from the segments for Best Play.
Sean Hayes started off his hosting chores slightly off, but as the evening has gone on he’s had some great jokes and bits.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
After one of the most lackluster Broadway seasons in recent memory, the arrival of the Goodspeed Opera House’s first production of the year, the Irving Berlin musical, Annie Get Your Gun, is a welcoming tonic. Like comfy food, pleasing and enjoyable, you know what you’re getting with Berlin’s biggest Broadway hit—a rousing, tuneful score and top notch performances.
The story follows sure-shooting Annie Oakley, played by Jenn Gambatese, as she rises from country bumpkin to world class star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, as well as the sometimes tempestuous courtship with Buffalo Bill’s reigning sharpshooter, Frank Butler, played by Kevin Earley. As Oakley, Gambatese is a natural, exuding a winning charm as she morphs from unsophisticated country girl to the toast of New York society. Unlike Bernadette Peters, who starred in the 1999 Broadway revival, Gambatese is age appropriate for the part, which makes her portrayal more entertaining and believable for the audience. Peters was over 50 when she played the spry Oakley (and, yes, I know Ethel Merman was almost 60 in the 1966 Lincoln Center revival). Gambatese also has a beautiful voice that underscores the consummate Berlin score. And what a score it is—almost every number a gem -- “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “I Got Lost in His Arms,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and “Anything You Can Do,” are just a few of the memorable songs Berlin penned for the show.
In addition to Gambatese’s performance, Kevin Earley is up to the challenge as the pompous, blusterous marksman Frank Butler, who slowly falls in love with Oakley. He has boyish good looks, a swaggering charm and a powerful voice. Other notable performers include Rebecca Watson as the scheming Dolly Tate and James Beaman as Buffalo Bill’s right hand man, Charlie Davenport.
The show’s sub-plot, revolving around the romance of the juvenile leads, Winnie Tate, played by Chelsea Morgan Stock and Tommy Keeler, portrayed by Andrew Cao, diverts a little too much attention from the main thrust of the production, but does provide the best dance numbers of the show by choreographer, Noah Racey. Unlike many past Goodspeed musicals, Annie Get Your Gun doesn’t lend itself to many large-scale productions numbers. Think of this show as having more choreographed flourishes.
Director Rob Ruggiero guides the musical with sure-handed ease. He skillfully allows the two stars to wrangle and good-naturedly spar on stage without too much interference.
Annie Get Your Gun, a crowd-pleasing triumph, at the Goodspeed Opera House now through July 3rd.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
The plot, taken from the Billy Wilder movie, “The Apartment,” centers on the topsy turvy life of a lowly office clerk, Chuck Baxter, played by Sean Hayes, as he pines for co-worker Fran Kubleik, Kristen Chenowith, while dreaming of climbing the corporate ladder. One asset he has—a one bedroom apartment that all the office bigwigs covet in order to carry out their weekly affairs.
While this latest incarnation of Promises, Promises is not overly satisfying, the production does have much to offer. First, and foremost, is Kristen Chenowith, as the forthright, yet vulnerable waitress/hostess, Fran Kubelik. Chenowith is always a joy to behold in her too infrequent stage appearances. While not always coming across as the young, defenseless girl trying to find love in the big city, she does exude enough vulnerability to make you believe in her character. And what a voice!
Tony Goldwyn is sickly sweet as Personnel Director, J.D. Sheldrake who preys upon the young, innocent females of Consolidated Life Insurance. He’s a conniving charlatan that would make the men of television’s “Mad Men” proud.
The score, the only theatrical output by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, is bouncy and tuneful—just what you’d expect from the hit-making team. There are so many outstanding songs, which include the title track, “Our Little Secret,” “Where Can You Take a Girl?” “A Young Pretty Girl Like You,” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” The show’s producers, looking to enhance Chenowith’s role have added the Bacharach/David hit “I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House is Not a Home” to her repertoire. It’s a shame the two never wrote another show.
So, what about Sean Hayes? At first, I wasn’t too enamored with his performance as the slightly nebbish Chuck Baxter. I wanted more Tony Roberts or Jerry Orbach, who originated the role in the 1968 Broadway production. What we get on stage is a more heterosexual version of his Jack McFarland role on the television sitcom, “Will and Grace.” He’s a goofy sad sack of a character. It wasn’t until midway through Act I, when I admitted to myself that this is what the creative team wanted in the role, that I settled in to enjoy Haye’s antics on stage. Not a great singer, but someone with solid comic credentials.
My main problem with the show was, surprisingly, its lack of vitality. The liveliness was there during the overture as dancers slinked and shimmied to the music, but then all but disappeared until the rousing Act I ending, “Turkey Lurkey Time.” Sure, there flourishes here and there, but Choreographer Rob Ashford, as opposed to Director, Rob Ashford, could have done so much more. Likewise, I wasn’t impressed with Scenic Designer, Scott Pask’s more minimalist sets. Over the years I have been critical of sets that overpower a production, but here I thought more would have been better.
Director/Choreographer Ashford could have ratcheted up the tempo more in Act I, but does a much more admirable job in Act II, which is more melancholy in tone.
Promises, Promises, maybe more a period piece, but with some rousing performances and sparkling score, worth seeing.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Is this, basically, a generational issue? I would answer in the affirmative. An apt comparison is The Who’s "Tommy," the seminal rock opera that, in 1993, was turned into a Broadway musical. As a teenager in the early 1970’s I knew every song from the album as well as the idiosyncratic storyline. I had no problem following the flow of that show. I knew "Tommy" inside and out so when Pete Townsend and company transformed "Tommy" the LP into Tommy the Broadway extravaganza I knew what to expect and, more importantly, had no difficulty understanding the unconventional plot, which also had little narrative structure. For American Idiot I had no grounding in the source material so while I was captivated by the production the enthrallment was more tempered.
Still, the basic premise is straightforward. Three friends, set out to take on the big city, have their paths irrevocably altered. Tunny, who’s pregnant girlfriend causes him to stay behind, spirals down into disillusionment and apathy; Will, seduced by the lure of glory, enlists in the armed services with tragic consequences; while Johnny becomes seduced by the debauchery and self-indulgence in the unnamed metropolis.
Even with the minimal storyline, the production is riveting with an outstanding cast that never shifts from high gear. How they have the energy and zeal to perform two shows on matinee day is beyond me. There are many first-rate performances in American Idiot, led by John Gallagher, Jr., as Johnny. A Tony winner for Spring Awakening, in American Idiot he seems to have unleashed all his pent-up angst from that show as he extricates himself from the boredom of his suburban detachment to a more noxious, drug infested life in the city.
Tony Vincent, as the downtown, androgynous drug pusher, St. Jimmy, is evil incarnated. I don’t remember the last time I have seen such a repulsive, scary monster strut along a Broadway stage. He was that good.
Director Michael Mayer, along with Green Day front man, Billie Joe Armstrong, deserve praise for crafting a living, breathing musical from one of the most influential and critically-acclaimed albums in recent memory. Mayer keeps the large-scale production pulsating, while adding some creative flourishes such as an artfully crafted high-flying dream sequence. Mayer integrates the creative team’s vision into a throbbing, dynamic piece of musical theater. Kudos to scenic designer, Christine Jones; lighting designer, Kevin Adams; sound, Brian Ronon; and, especially, video/projection designer, Darrel Maloney. They take the vision of American Idiot and have it unfold, not just on-the-ground, but up, down, and above the St. James Theater stage.
American Idiot, slightly flawed, but a powerful force kicking and screaming its way on The Great White Way.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
The plot centers around the Addams’ daughter, Wednesday, and her desire to marry a gee-shucks boy from America’s heartland. To impress his visiting family the Addams are ordered to act normally by the love-struck girl. Interestingly, when these words were uttered I immediately thought of another show with this premise, a musical called La Cage Aux Folles which, coincidentally, just opened on Broadway in a scaled down revival. Also, who was in the Americanized movie version of the original French farce? Nathan Lane, one of the stars of The Addams Family. But, I digress. As I stated, the story is ineffective and feeble with none of the creepy pleasures we've come to expect from this macabre family. The writers couldn’t have come up with a better premise? Worse, the attempts at humor are so off-the-mark. I simply cannot remember a musical, in recent memory, where the deficiencies in the book are so evident.
What compounds the problem is the lack of substance for the two stars of the show. A musical featuring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth should be an event to cherish. Both are seasoned, Tony winning actors that, in the past, have brandished a swagger and style that have kept audiences enormously entertained. But here, playing the roles of Morticia and Gomez Addams, Neuwirth and Lane are saddled with very little to do. I was waiting for Nathan Lane to let loose with his character, to have fun, and meld his musical comedy and vaudevillian sensibilities into another memorable portrayal as he has done so well in such productions as A Funny Thing on the Way to the Forum and The Producers. In The Addams Family, practically nothing. It was like watching someone in a strait jacket unsuccessfully trying to break free.
In Bebe Neuwirth you want to see her dance. She’s a dancer—remember her performances in Sweet Charity and Chicago—but in The Addams Family there is literally zippo, zilch, zero—you get my drift--until her “Tango de Amor” just before the closing curtain. Yes, the end of the show. Not the beginning. Not the middle. The end. Who’s to blame? Well, Sergio Trujillo is the choreographer of record.
I also felt sorry for theater veterans Terrence Mann and Carolee Carmello as the parents of Wednesday’s affection, Mr. and Mrs. Beineke. They have been so marvelous throughout their careers it is too bad they have to be weighed down with such bland and insipid roles. They deserve better.
The score by Andrew Lippa is lackluster at best, providing no opportunity for any of the actors to shine.
The directing/design team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch score no real points on the directing side, but big points on the design end. But, this is just another nail in the coffin when the look and feel of the sets are one of the most memorable aspects of the production.
Is there any redeeming value to The Addams Family? Kevin Chamberlain as Uncle Fester and Jackie Hoffman as Grandma are highly entertaining and bring a slightly off-kilter slant to their characters. That’s about it.
The Addams Family, dead on arrival, now at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Tony Shalhoub plays Saunders, the General Manager of the Cleveland Opera, who has hired Italian tenor, Tito Merelli, portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia, for a high-priced fundraising event. Of course, soon the best laid plans begin to go awry, which sets the madcap plot into motion. Shalhoub, as the high-strung and bombastic impresario, Saunders, is a pure joy. His slow burns, over-the-top histrionics, and comedic timing are priceless. LaPaglia plays more the straight man in the show, but his portrayal of the bloated, pompous, and overly sexed, “Il Stupendo,” is exuberant and flamboyant. His ying to Shalhoub’s yang is integral to the production’s success. The other “name” actor is Justin Bartha, making his Broadway debut and better known as Nicholas Cage’s sidekick in the National Treasure movies as well as the sunburned groom-to-be in last year’s smash, The Hangover. Here, as Max, playing a slightly wimpish assistant to the overbearing Saunders, Bartha comes off a bit too wooden, not appearing as comfortable as the theater veterans that populate the show. Still, his Max is endearing and, in the end, a winning performance.
The rest of the cast--Mary Catherine Garrison, as Max's starry-eyed girlfriend, hopelessly pining for a romantic tryst with Merelli; Jennifer Laura Thompson, as a flirtatious diva; Brooke Adams, as a daft chairwoman of the Opera Guild; and Jay Klaitz, as a pushy and overbearing bellhop--are equally as good. The standout is Jan Maxwell, as Merelli’s long-suffering wife. Not only does she get to overly emote and wail away at her two timing husband, but she also has the opportunity for some physical theatrics.
Stanley Tucci, making his Broadway directorial debut, keeps the action lively and allows his cast to broadly attack their roles. He has a fine sense of the comedic craft and demonstrates this deft ability throughout this side-splitting production.
One added delight is the show’s setting. The Music Box Theater is a small, intimate house perfectly suited for two hours of rollicking fun.
Lend Me a Tenor, a pure delight and welcome addition to the New York stage.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
But the most entertaining part of the night at the 440 seat Apollo Theater was not the action on stage, but in the audience. Shortly after the intermission-less show began people started leaving their seats to head out, I assume, to the restrooms. This was not one or two bladder-challenged individuals, but a steady stream. I was perched up in the last row (only eight rows from the stage) overlooking the exit ramp to the lobby which gave me a bird’s eye view of the audience comings and goings. It’s not that these actions were distracting from the show (even though as the evening progressed I became less and less interested in the antics of Jerry Lee Lewis or the whining of Carl Perkins). It was more of a curio, an oddity I had never witnessed in a Broadway house two, three, or four times the size of the Apollo. Is there something in the Chicago water that causes this problem or is this standard audience etiquette in The Windy City theaters?
Or maybe it was due to the amount of alcohol consumption before and during the performance. Now, all theaters have their bar area(s) and people will have a pick-me-up before the curtain rises or, in the case of the Apollo’s 3/4 thrust stage, the lights goes up, but usually with restraint. However, the activity at the theater’s sole watering hole resembled last call at the neighborhood tavern. No wonder, show or no show, when nature called it was time to head to the bathrooms. A prime example was the four blonde bimbos seated just in front of me. I kid you not, this quartet of boozers were sucking down their Bud Lite’s, cackling and laughing like they were in the bleacher seats of nearby Wrigley Field. At one point the tall one on the end left and shortly returned with a six-pack. A six pack of beer! In the theater!! During the performance!!! I don’t know what shocked me the most—the sight of this chicly dressed patron climbing up the aisle, six pack in hand, or the audacity of the theater for selling Bud Lite during the production (couldn’t they at least go upscale with a local microbrew?). I sat there, alternately, transfixed by their antics and dumbfounded by their impudence. Shushing them towards the end of the musical—yes, I actually shushed and didn’t suffer any bodily harm in the process—tempered their gusto to the occasional smirking murmur.
As the show wound down—the actor Lance Lipinsky channeled Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” for the finale--the juiced up quartet fled the theater. When the lights went up, the row in front of me was a minefield of empties. For a moment I didn’t know if I was leaving, as stated on the Apollo Theater’s website, (http://www.apollochicago.com/history.php) “a lush venue with a prestigious reputation, located in the heart of Chicago's fashionable Lincoln Park neighborhood,” or a venue for fashionable lushes!. Broadway, here we come!