Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"

I was looking forward to the revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the 1965 musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, that stars Harry Connick, Jr. There were a number of reasons. First, the show is rarely revived so a chance to see a production with the full Broadway treatment was too good to pass up. Second, there are a number of tuneful songs in the score, something rare in current Broadway shows. Third, the chance to see Mr. Connick who created such a splash in his Broadway debut a few years back in The Pajama Game.

Unfortunately, the revival didn’t live up to my advance expectations and, indeed, falls flat. I’d go out on a limb and say the soon-to-close Bonnie and Clyde has more to offer theater-goers then this sluggish production. So what’s the problem? There are two primary issues I have with the revival. First, is the storyline. The original 1965 show centered on a psychiatrist, still brooding over his dead wife, who begins sessions with a woman who just happens to host the reincarnated soul of a 1940’s jazz singer. The doctor falls for the inner being while treating the real-life self. As you can guess, complications ensue. In the current revival at the St. James Theater, Director Michael Mayer has reconceived the plot, along with bookwriter Peter Parnell, so the female client, instead of playing dual roles, has been split into a gay flower shop salesman, David—he’s the one in therapy--and an actress playing the beguiling other self. More complications ensue, both in David’s personal life and clinical sessions. As you can imagine, the narrative gets somewhat convoluted. Most of the characters are never really compelling and the main thrust of the plot is rather uninspiring.

This isn’t to say the actors in the production aren’t endearing or miscast, except one, which brings me to problem number two—Harry Connick, Jr. Whether it is the role, as written; the direction by Michael Mayer; Connick’s overly despondent nature or a combination of the three the star seems to just hunker across the stage, crooning some ballads, and showing very little emotional range. Yes, his character is still grief stricken over his wife’s death three years earlier, but the continual moping and self-reflection becomes tiresome.

The other cast members are more in sync with their musical comedy roles. David Turner is an effervescent sparkplug as the anxious, commitment abhorrent florist, David Gamble; Drew Gehling, as David’s lawyerly lover, Warren Smith, has a natty stage presence and dynamic voice; Sarah Stiles, David’s best friend, Muriel, provides a needed comic kick throughout the show; and Jessie Mueller, as the reincarnated singer, Melinda Wells, is radiant, high-spirited and possesses a powerhouse voice.

The score by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane contain some real Broadway musical gems including “Melinda,” “Come Back to Me,” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Yet the notable songs are backloaded towards the end of the show leaving a finely tuned score with only a few magical nuggets.

Christine Jones’ misguided set designs, looking to evoke the swinging times of the early 1970’s, are a jumble of colorful geometric shapes and forms, yet their inclusion is more artsiness over effectiveness.

Director Mayer and choreographer Joann Hunter look to instill life into the musical—the production numbers, few and far between, are energetic if somewhat utilitarian—but with a cumbersome plot and a somewhat unappealing lead character the revival of On a Clear Day needs to undergo its own reincarnation. Maybe in its next life the musical will become the enchanting fable it yearns to be.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review of "Chinglish"

Chinglish, the concatenation of Chinese and English, is the recently opened Broadway comedy, which deals with cultural and language misinterpretation and misinformation. Fitfully funny and sometimes somber the play, by Tony Award winning playwright, David Henry Hwang (he wrote the brilliant M. Butterfly from 1988) opens with Midwestern businessman, Daniel Cavanaugh, giving a lecture—to both an unseen Ohio-based Chamber of Commerce group as well as the theater audience—on his exploits in China. The thrust of his talk revolves around the mistranslation of everyday Chinese worded signs and numerous demonstrations are projected above the stage of the Longacre Theater. Soon after, the audience is thrust back in time as we witness the beginnings of Cavanaugh’s initial trip to China with the goal of securing a contract for his family-owned sign making business. To assist in his efforts he hires a British expatriate and self-styled business consultant, Peter Timms, to help him navigate the ways of this foreign land. Naturally, nothing goes right with their dealings with bureaucrats as Chinese traditions, practices and language conspire against the hapless Cavanaugh…that is until his relationship with Deputy Minister Xi Yan, begin to blossom in multiple ways.

Playwright David Henry Hwang has crafted a comedy that, in essence, is a tale of “mis” as in misdirection, misinformation, and mistranslation. What is perceived and believed to be the truth is not always to be accepted or to be trusted. His use of supertitles, projected over the stage—much of the dialogue is in Chinese—can be distracting and a possible annoyance to theatergoers that would rather hear spoken words as opposed to reading, too. But the projected text, in a way, gives the audience a taste of what the forlorn Cavanaugh is experiencing with his frustration and disgruntlement.

The entire cast of Chinglish is marvelous. Standouts include Gary Wilmes, as the unsophisticated, fish out-of-water, Daniel Cavanaugh, who is perfect in the part. Cavanaugh desperately wants, even needs, his situation to pan out and Wilmes’ quirks and hopeless looks only magnify his character’s anguish and discomfort. At first, Jennifer Lim as the stoic, no-nonsense, Xi Yan, seems one-dimensional and more of a comic foil, but very soon her multi-faceted persona and, later, her hidden agenda reveal a more complex and knowing individual. Stephen Pucci, as the somewhat mysterious and ill-tempered consultant, Peter Timms, is both suave and smarmy. And his Mandarin Chinese is quite good, too.

The set by David Korins deserves specific praise. A revolving set of interchangeable pieces, spin together to form a dizzying array of locales and spaces. The changeovers are quick, effortless, and quite an achievement. Kudos.

Director Leigh Silverman provides sleek guidance, allowing each scene to evolve and develop within Hwang’s words. He skillfully marshals the action through the numerous set changes, deftly steering the performances through the twists and turns of the plot.

Chinglish, now on Broadway at the Longacre Theater.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review of "City of Angels" - Goodspeed Opera House

City of Angels, the last show of the Goodspeed Opera House’s season, is probably one of the most acclaimed, award-laden musicals that people have never heard of. The show ran for almost 900 performances on Broadway and won a slew of the major 1990 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actor, but this infrequently revived hit rarely registers with all but the most ardent of Broadway fans. The production, a more contemporary offering then what is usually in the Goodspeed line-up, is a lively, sexy, well-crafted musical comedy with just one annoying feature (more on that later).


City of Angels is a show within a show. The plot centers around author, Stine, played with winning nimbleness and intelligence by D.B. Bonds, who is trying to craft his murder mystery into a screenplay. While Stine writes his characters come to life as a film noir feature, from the 1940’s, giving us two simultaneous plot lines. During this process Stine also has to deal with the interfering, self-important producer-director, Buddy Fidler, played with narcissistic splendor by Jay Russell; marital woes; infidelity; and his own moral values.

Stine’s alter ego, Stone, a hard-boiled private detective right out of central casting, is played to perfection by Burke Moses. He’s headstrong, obstinate, and the embodiment of every Dashiell Hammett or Mickey Spillane protagonist. Nancy Anderson, in the dual role of Oolie (Stone’s girl Friday from the movie storyline) and Donna (Buddy Fidler’s flirtatious assistant) is marvelous shifting back and forth between the sensual (Donna) and repressed (Oolie). While these three cast members standout, as usual at Goodspeed, all the actors in the show are first-rate.

The story goes back and forth between the real and the not-so-real culminating in a satisfying conclusion for both.

There are a number of reasons that elevate City of Angels to such a gratifying level. First is Larry Gelbart’s well-conceived, well-written book for the show. It’s smart, funny, and sophisticated without being pretentious or overly complicated. The score by Cy Coleman, according to Josh Ritter, the Education and Library Director for Goodspeed, is the first hit musical to feature a full-blown jazz score. While I’m not a jazz aficionado I found the music by Coleman and the lyrics by David Zippel to contain breezy, well-crafted songs that play well in the parallel settings.

Director Darko Tresnjak keeps the show fast-paced which is quite an accomplishment considering there are 40 scenes throughout the production, some short, others more extended. Either way he guides the musical with a steady, creative hand.
One of the hallmarks of a Goodspeed show is the scenic design for such a small performance space and David Gordon doesn’t disappoint. He uses the raising and lowering of multi-length venetian blinds to reveal the action on stage. The simple, unadorned sets allow for quick scene changes as well as providing the atmospheric motif for the dual setting.

My one annoyance with the production is its overuse of projections beamed on-stage. Goodspeed purchased a system this year and, while its use in the Opera House’s first musical of the year, My One and Only, was appropriate here Shawn Boyle’s projection design have gone overboard. For example, do we really need feet with toe tags projected on the side of the stage during the morgue scene? As I mentioned earlier, the Goodspeed Opera House’s hallmark is its clean, streamlined sense of scenic style. When projections are overly emphasized they become the focus. Do we really want patrons exiting the theater talking about this aspect of the show? If projections are part of the future, I hope their use is more moderated.

Nonetheless, City of Angels is clever, witty and flirtatious fun. The Goodspeed Opera House should be applauded for reviving such a rarely seen work. Now through November 27th.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review of "Jersey Boys" - Bushnell Auditorium

The Broadway smash and worldwide touring sensation, Jersey Boys, makes a triumphant return to the Bushnell Auditorium. The musical, for those not familiar with the production, traces the formation and rise to the top of the charts of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, The Four Seasons (only after three of the four original members left did the group become known as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons).

During its first visit to Hartford, two years ago, I felt the show lacked cohesion as the actors were more caricatures—over emphasizing their rough and tough Jersey roots (and accents)--then portraying real characters. This time around the musical is like a tight, well-rehearsed horn section—full of punch and self-assurance.

The first part of the show builds slowly as characters are introduced, plot lines set-up. However, it’s not until just over halfway through Act I does Jersey Boys begin to hit its stride as the group rockets up the charts with back-to-back-to-back number one hits. The songs encompass the best of the Four Seasons songbook including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Rag Doll,” and many more.

The four stars—Preston Truman Boyd as singer/songwriter, Bob Gaudio; Michael Lomenda as the idiosyncratic, Nick Massi; John Gardiner as the coarse, loudmouth, and self-appointed leader of the group, Tommy DeVito; and Joseph Leo Bwarie, as the diminutive lead singer, Frankie Valli—breathe life into their real-life counterparts. Bwarie, especially, has matured into the role of Frankie Valli. He has played the lead singer for a number of years, but this time around he his portrayal is more nuanced and forthright.

The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice cover a lot of historical ground which, especially in Act II, feels more like a greatest hits collection of the group’s lives as one major event after another is displayed on stage. Still, they handle their assignment deftly, hitting the highs and lows of each member focusing primarily on Frankie Valli after intermission as he steps out to lead a reconfigured Four Seasons.

Director Des McAnuff keeps the show moving briskly from one scene to the next with skillful and self-assured hands. He knows how to pace the production between the peaks and valleys of the storyline, resulting in a satisfying theatrical experience.

Jersey Boys, now at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through November 6th.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Broadway Picks for 2011-2012

Last year I put up a list of Broadway shows I was looking forward to seeing for the 2010-2011 season. It was an eclectic list, mostly musicals, that ended up being a mixed bag of disappointments, non-openings, and few successes. Oh well.

This year there is a lot of star power coming to Broadway, but few interesting, new musicals that are totally, unequivocally, indisputably, without question set to open. So, here is my Top Ten list, in date order, of the Broadway productions I most want to see for the 2011-2012 season. We’ll talk in May about my choices.

RELATIVELY SPEAKING
New comedies by Woody Allen AND Elaine May AND Ethan Coen (as in the Academy Award winning Coen brothers) in one night! Granted, they are all one acts, but how else to squeeze in all three. The cast, a real smorgasbord of television, movie and theater actors, that includes Steve Guttenberg, Julie Kavner, Grant Shaud, Marlo Thomas, and Mark Linn-Baker. Could be a VERY funny night in the theater.
First Preview: scheduled for September 20, 2011
Scheduled Opening: October 20, 2011

HUGH JACKMAN, BACK ON BROADWAY
Tony winner, mutant, movie star, award show emcee, Aussie, song and dance man—is there anything I’ve left out—comes back to Broadway in a one-man show that is sure to be a crowd pleaser and SRO. Pulling out all the stops, there will even be an 18-piece orchestra backing him up.
First Preview: scheduled for October 25, 2011
Scheduled Opening: November 10, 2011
Special Note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 1, 2012 closing.

BONNIE AND CLYDE
A positive buzz for a Frank Wildhorn musical? That hasn’t happened for quite a few years. The much maligned, power ballad crazed composer might have his first hit since Jekyll & Hyde over 20 years ago with the forthcoming Bonnie and Clyde. The man behind The Scarlet Pimpernel (decent run), The Civil War (flop), Dracula, the Musical (disaster), Wonderland (huge flop), and many more regionally produced shows comes in with the first non-revival of the year. In addition to the good word-of-mouth, the musical’s Clyde—Jeremy Jordan--has just opened to positive reviews in a stage production of the Disney movie, Newsies (which itself may end up on Broadway this year) at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. Jordan has actually been shuttling between NJ, for Newsies, and NYC for rehearsals of Bonnie and Clyde.
First Preview: scheduled for November 4, 2011
Scheduled Opening: December 1, 2011

LYSISTRATA JONES
I will admit I don’t know much about this musical, but it was all the rage Off-Broadway last year. Something downtown, something original, and something edgy. The question is will it work uptown? Will it be this year’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which worked so well in its initial run at The Public Theater and then crashed on Broadway?
First Preview: scheduled for November 12, 2011
Scheduled Opening: December 14, 2011

ONE A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER
This revival, originally set for an Off-Broadway run, was moved to Broadway once Harry Connick Jr. became involved with the production. Connick is a crowd pleaser and a true leading man with a role perfectly fit for his talents. A delightful score, with many memorable songs, by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner (bit of trivia—according to Richard Rodgers, in his autobiography, he and Lerner were working on an ESP musical before differences ended the would-be collaboration. Soon after, Lerner and Lane came out with On a Clear Day).
First Preview: scheduled for November 12, 2011
Scheduled Opening: December 11, 2011

A EVENING WITH PATTI LUPONE AND MANDY PATINKIN
Let’s see--friends since their school days at Julliard and Tony winners for their respective roles in Evita. Add in an armful of memorable Broadway roles and electrifying solo concerts. Now combine these two powerhouse and emotive entertainers on one stage and you can almost feel the earth move. Goodness, one of them in concert would be worth the price of admission, but both. OMG!
First Preview: scheduled for November 16, 2011
Scheduled Opening: November 21, 2011
Special Note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 13, 2012 closing.

PORGY AND BESS
One of the most talked about and critically examined shows of the year, including a scathing letter to The New York Times by Stephen Sondheim, this Broadway bound version of the Gershwin classic (inexplicably renamed as The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess) has many theater-goers wondering what the uproar is all about. We’ll soon have our chance to chime in. Oh, and then there is the very talented cast headed up by Audra McDonald who’s return to the Broadway stage—no matter what the show—is always cause for celebration. In addition, there are Norm Lewis, David Alan Grier, and Joshua Henry (a standout in last year’s The Scottsboro Boys).
First Preview: scheduled for December 17, 2011
Scheduled Opening: January 12, 2012

ENTER LAUGHING
On my list from last year, but definitely scheduled for this season, Enter Laughing was one of the highlights from the 2008-2009 Off-Broadway theater season. The musical, 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, who will, once again, star as the stage struck teenager trying to break into show business. A number actors from the original York Theater production will also be making the trip to Broadway, including husband and wife, Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker.
First Preview: To Be Announced
Scheduled Opening: To Be Announced

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT
In 1983 there was a musical called My One and Only that incorporated Gershwin songs, that starred a charismatic male lead (Tommy Tune), and an engaging female star (Twiggy). The show was fun, frivolous and a hit of the Broadway season. Fast forward almost thirty years and a musical incorporating Gershwin songs, starring an appealing male lead (Matthew Broderick) and a captivating female star (Kelli O’Hara) is set to open on Broadway. Can lightening strike twice? With Broderick and O’Hara singing and dancing up a storm (the director is Kathleen Marshall) will the Gershwin estate once again score a Broadway hit.
First Preview: Spring 2012
Scheduled Opening: To Be Announced

ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
A few months ago I heard, maybe read, that Kristen Chenoweth was planning to star in a revival of the 1978 musical On the Twentieth Century, playing the role that Madeline Kahn originated (but only played for a short time). Kahn was Lily Garland, a temperamental movie diva and Chenoweth would be perfect for the role. The only problem—is the production more rumor or more fact? Also, in the original you had Kevin Kline (Tony Award) and John Cullum (Tony Award) that could go toe-to-toe with Madeline Kahn. Unless you have two actors that can do the same a revival will become more of “On the Kristen Chenoweth.”
First Preview: Unknown
Scheduled Opening: Unknown

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Review of "Show Boat" - Goodspeed Opera House

Let me state right at the start, the Goodspeed Opera House’s production of Show Boat is one of the best shows I have seen there in recent memory. The Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II classic radiates with emotional intensity, standout performances, and a celebrated score.

Show Boat, historically, is a large-scale musical. The early 1990’s Broadway revival was a lavish production where the riverboat itself was probably the size of the Goodspeed theater. But director Rob Ruggiero and his creative team have successfully pared down the musical, focusing on the relationships and interactions of the characters as opposed to emphasizing the grandiose spectacle.


The first act of the sprawling story, based on the Edna Ferber novel, takes place on the Cotton Blossom, the showboat run by Captain Andy. He, his crew, and band of entertainers ply the waters of the Mississippi, bringing dramatic readings and showgirls to the populace up and down the river. In quick succession we are introduced to the central characters—the fatherly Captain Andy; his wife, the stern, no-nonsense Parthy; their young, care-free daughter, Magnolia; the star performers, Steve Baker and his rapturous wife, Julie; the gentlemanly scalawag, Gaylord Ravenal; the squawking, yet talented dance team of Ellie May Chipley and Frank Schultz; and the two African-American boat hands, the deep-voiced, able-bodied, Joe; and his sensible, dignified wife, Queenie. There is young love, racial commentary, treachery, and comedic touches that enliven the action and set the stage for the heartbreaking and poignancy of Act II.

There are so many aspects of the musical to praise, but the first must be the groundbreaking score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Kern and Hammerstein were attempting to break free from the light-hearted, operetta mode so entrenched on the American stage. They were looking to add more depth and emotion to their work. With Show Boat they succeeded flawlessly. In Act I alone, we are treated to “Only Make Believe,” “Ol’ Man River,” “Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” and “You are Love.” Act II adds “Why Do I Love You” and “Bill.”

The songs are sung by a highly accomplished cast, all delivering finely polished performances. Let me, unjustly on my part, only single out five, starting with the Captain himself, Lenny Wolpe. His Captain Andy is paternal, supportive, and protective; the glue that holds the production together. He is always the reassuring core when trouble or discord take hold. He is so effortless in his role that you could easily envision Wolpe as the man in charge of a Mississippi riverboat. Lesli Margherita, a radiant and vulnerable Julie, has a dynamic, emotive voice that accentuates her character’s tragic nature. David Aron Damane, as the strapping Joe, sings with power and dignity. Sarah Uriarte Berry, as Magnolia, who metamorphoses from a young, unsophisticated lass to a hardened, world-weary woman, textures her role with impressive range and vitality. Her duets with Ben Davis’ Ravenal are some of the highlights of the production. Davis, the handsome rogue who wins the heart of Magnolia, the daughter of Captain Andy and Parthy, demonstrates a swagger and defiance that makes him both appealing and exasperating at the same time.

As I stated earlier, director Rob Ruggiero has woven together a magical production, no small feat considering the heft and history behind the musical. He assuredly takes the material from the Oscar Hammerstein II libretto and, by coaxing superb performances from the cast, presents an expansive, yet intimate portrayal from the late 1800’s to the early 20th century.

Noah Racey’s choreography, while minimal, develops naturally from the action on stage; the production numbers sprout organically from the storyline. He also gets to showcase the comedic and dancing talents of Jennifer Knox as Ellie May Chipley and Danny Gardner as Frank Schultz. Michael Schweikardt’s scenic design provide just enough substance and artifice for the audience to “Only Make Believe, ” whether on a Mississippi riverboat, a Chicago tenement or nightclub.

Show Boat, coming to life at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, extended now through September 17th.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What to See on Broadway in 2011

For the past few years I have listed my recommendations for people coming to New York to see a Broadway show. Below are my most up-to-date choices for June 2011. While there are a number of noteworthy productions, many of the top shows are continuously sold out and, therefore, advance planning is in order.

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. I am looking at shows I might think the occasional theater-goer would enjoy.

I lean towards the newer shows, but this is not a knock against some of the old-timers such as Mamma Mia and Phantom of the Opera. However, this is all an inexact science with numerous variables to consider. For example, a Tween girl will probably love Wicked, but a boy…? Conversely, a Tween or Teen boy might be enthralled with the spectacle of Spider-Man, but a girl…? Other considerations -- Is one seeking a musical comedy or more serious production? What might appeal to two or three age groups at the same time? What about a mature eleven year old girl? What do we do about her? Etc. Etc.

I have not included such shows as The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, The Lion King, or Wicked as any of the primary choices since these shows are almost always sold out and you would have to pay a king’s ransom to acquire decent seats (Jersey Boys has been more available, but is still at 97%-98% capacity). I have included some of these shows at the end of each category under the heading – “IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING.” If one of these productions is available, disregard my rankings and scoop up the tickets pronto! If you are planning a Broadway trip down the road, it will be easier to procure tickets to these hard-to-get shows. Just expect to pay full price.

Speaking of procuring tickets, there are a number of ways to obtain theater tickets quite cheaply. You can refer to a previous blog I wrote.

The only non-musical I have included on my list is War Horse. If tickets are available – go! Fortunately, what was suppose to be a limited engagement is now an open-ended run.

Foul language is very subjective. I had a parent email me concerned about Billy Elliot. Yes, there are language issues with that musical, but nothing unheard of in middle and high schools across the country. And Billy Elliot is such a great show—the music, the dancing—I would not overlook the production because some of the young kids are cursing. The revival of Hair, coming back for a summer run, might cause some trepidation. The Book of Mormon is in a “language” category all by itself. If you or your children enjoy South Park and are not bothered by the language, then The Book of Mormon is just up your alley.

Within the listings there is considerable overlap. For example, The Lion King could enthrall everyone, from TIKES to ADULTS. 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 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. Remember, these are my opinions. Shows that I have previously reviewed are linked to that review. So, without further ado…drum roll please…

TIKES (6-9 years old)

There use to be many Broadway shows for this age group, but the recommendations are now down to:
  1. 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.
  2. Spider-Man – For TIKES at the older level. There are some scary moments when the monsters start attacking New York City. Not a great show, but with all the high-flying inside the theater the kids will be enthralled.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING – The Lion King.

TWEENS (10-13 years old) This is always a difficult category since, as parents know, a lot of changes are percolating inside of tweens. Are they a young or mature tween?

  1. Billy Elliot – Not consistently selling out these days. Excellent score by Elton John and the dancing is some of the best on Broadway. TWEENS will be able to identify with the kids. Adults will find the story gripping.
  2. Sister Act – When the action is inside the convent, Sister Act is a spirited, lively and entertaining Broadway musical.
  3. The Addams Family – I found the show, based on the New York cartoons of Charles Addams, inoffensive and mildly amusing. TWEENS will probably like it because of the ghoulish nature of the source material.
  4. How to Succeed in Business – I was disappointed with the show, but if your TWEENS are huge Harry Potter fans this would be a popular choice.
  5. Spider Man – see under TIKES.
  6. 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. Might be a bit scary. And where else would you find a crashing chandelier.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) - Wicked, or The Lion King.

TEENS (14-17 years old)

  1. Hair – One of the seminal rock musicals with another classic score. Youthful, energetic cast makes this a must see. Some language issues and nudity.
  2. Billy Elliot – see under TWEENS.
  3. Memphis – characters you care about, excellent performances and solid score.
  4. How to Succeed in Business – I was disappointed with the show and while Daniel Radcliffe gives it his all his casting of J. Pierpont Finch was all-wrong. However, a must for Harry Potter fans.
  5. Sister Act – see under TWEENS.
  6. The Addams Family – see under TWEENS.
  7. Spider-Man – see under TWEENS.
  8. Mamma Mia – I thoroughly enjoyed Mamma Mia, but this recommendation is ONLY if you are an ABBA fan.
  9. The Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, War Horse, Wicked, or The Lion King.

YOUNG ADULTS (18+ years old)

  1. Hair – see under TEENS.
  2. Memphis – see under TEENS.
  3. Anything Goes – a bit low-key, but when Sutton Fosters revs up her dancing shoes and singing voice the show really heats up.
  4. Billy Elliot – see under TWEENS.
  5. How to Succeed in Business – see under TEENS.
  6. Sister Act – see under TWEENS.
  7. Mamma Mia – see under TEENS.
  8. The Addams Family – see under TWEENS.
  9. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
  10. Rock of Ages – retro, 1980’s power rock musical. For the classic rock crowd.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, War Horse, Wicked, or The Lion King.

ADULTS

  1. Anything Goes – see under YOUNG ADULTS.
  2. Memphis – see under TEENS.
  3. Billy Elliot – see under TWEENS.
  4. Sister Act – see under TWEENS.
  5. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
  6. Mamma Mia – see under TEENS.
  7. The Addams Family – see under TEENS.
  8. How to Succeed in Business – see under TEENS.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, War Horse, Jersey Boys, or Wicked.

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

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

At long last the embattled musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has finally opened. While I have followed the travails of the show in the media over the past six months, I have not seen any previous incarnations. Therefore, my review is based solely on my attendance at the official press night earlier this month.

So, what is the verdict? Has all those months or reworking, rewrites, restaging, reimagining, re-this, and re-that produced a hit or miss? Spider-Man, unfortunately, fails as a fully developed Broadway musical. I would classify it more as a Las Vegas spectacular or a Cirque de Soleil extravaganza. The story is banal, the characters are two-dimensional; and the score by Bono and The Edge of the rock super group, U2, is solemn with few unmemorable songs and too many overarching power ballads.

The plot follows the birth of the Spider-Man character—young Peter Parker, visiting a genetic engineering research firm, is accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider, thus enhancing the geeky high school student with superhuman powers. At the same time his body is undergoing such drastic physical and emotional change Parker is dealing with the death of his beloved uncle; his relationship with would-be girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson; and how to rid New York City of a small army of genetically created monsters, wrecking havoc around The Big Apple.

The cast is satisfactory with Reeve Carney as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Jennifer Damiano as the love of his life, Mary Jane, notable primarily because they are on stage most often. Carney, brooding and contemplative, tries to salvage his role, but with the mostly rewritten book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (original librettists Glen Berger and Julie Taymor are also credited) more a life-like depiction of a Spider-Man comic book there is no way Carney, as well as any cast member, can develop true, emotionally well-rounded characters.

The score by Bono and The Edge is not up to the ususal U2 standards. I doubt any of the numbers would have made the final cut for one of their multi-platinum selling albums. The songs are rather cheerless and moody pieces. Yes, the two are newcomers to the Broadway stage and with all the disarray swirling around the development of the production they could be given a break. But trying to write a Broadway score long distance—the group was touring Australia and New Zealand during a good amount of time during the show’s gestation period—proved to be an unsuccessful formula.

The director or, as he is billed in the Playbill, “Creative Consultant,” (ousted director, Julie Taymor, is still listed as “Original Direction by”) Philip McKinley has a background in Broadway musicals, but is better known as conceiving and directing multiple editions of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s The Greatest Show on Earth. This experience serves him well in supervising the aerial daredevilry and stunts (more on that later). But the direction of the non-high-flying portions of the show are matter-of-fact and are only salvaged by George Tsypin’s imaginative and striking sets (again, more later). The choreography, by Daniel Ezralow and Chase Brock, which could potentially inject life into the musical, is lackluster and uninspired.

So, what’s positive about the show? The backdrops, scenery and projections are superb (you know a production is in trouble when that’s its most outstanding feature). If the rest of the musical was half as good, Spider-Man would be a smash hit. Viewing certain set pieces unfold into buildings and neighborhoods; moveable parts assemble around the stage, giving breadth and depth to the city; and large stage encompassing projections utilized to heighten the fear and terror brought forth by the super-villain, The Green Goblin and his henchmen, you can begin to understand why Spider-Man is the most expensive show in Broadway history. One of the more striking scenes is when the two teenagers are walking home, after Peter Parker has been roughed up at school, and as they head through their rundown streets the neighborhood scenery unfolds and changes via the pages of an oversized picture book. In “Bouncing Off the Walls,” the soon-to-be Spider-man begins to discover his new powers and, literally, begins to climb and bounce off the walls of his room. It is a simple, but effective scene.

Lastly, there are the high-flying aerial derring-dos, what the musical has infamously become known for during all these months leading up to its opening night. The aerial design and rigging by Scott Rogers and Jaque Paquin is impressive—up to a point. After a while the wow factor begins to fade as the jumping and ricocheting around inside the interior of the Foxwoods Theatre becomes a bit tiring. Even the climatic battle scene, played out above the audience, between Spider-Man and The Green Goblin wears thin rather quickly.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, a lightweight entertainment spectacle more three-ring circus then Broadway musical.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review of "The Mad Bomber" in Waterbury, CT

During the late 1940’s to mid-1950’s, George Metesky of Waterbury, a former Consolidated Edison employee, disgruntled over an injury received on the job, began a reign of terror in New York City by planting pipe bombs in well-known and well-traveled places in the city. He became known as “The Mad Bomber” and part of his story is now the basis for a world premiere musical at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT.

The show, entitled “Mad Bomber,” is, at best, viewed as what might be the first step in a long process to fully realize its potential. Many new musicals go through a systematic developmental route to work on all aspects of a show. This would involve staged readings, workshop productions, out-of-town tryouts and, finally, opening night. The current production of the “Mad Bomber” could be classified as being at the workshop stage.


There are two areas of the musical that the creative team needs to address. First, is the direction of the show. Many players are introduced at the onset—New York City Mayor, Robert Wagner; Police Commissioner Kennedy; Democratic boss, Carmine DeSapio; James Brussel, a psychiatrist and profiler—with the sole purpose of providing an unnecessary amount of background information (which is already provided in the program). This needless exposition and introduction of real-life characters serves no real purpose in moving the action forward and delays the focus of the musical—the story of George Metesky. However, Charles Monagan, who wrote both book and lyrics to the “Mad Bomber,” has included in the cast two reporters, Sally Jo Dorman and Billy Breen, from competing newspapers that helped break the case. While the roles need more development, the two, played with charm and vitality by Cassie Okenka and Bobby Grouse, could be the thread to provide a coherent structure to the production. This would also allow more of the George Metesky character who is only seen spottily throughout the show.

The second issue that needs to be examined is the tone of the musical. What is the overall objective? Does the musical want to have darker, more cynical overtones? Is it looking to be a more lighthearted, romantic romp (as when Sally Jo and Billy inexplicably go into an entertaining, but baffling tap routine)? The production zigs and zags from one shade to another, incorporating too many styles instead of focusing on one. The one scene I thought worked extremely well, with menacing nuances and dramatic tension, was during the song, “Dear Sir,” where, in a split stage, Sally Jo is composing open letters to the Mad Bomber and reading the responses to her newspaper while on the other side of the stage Metesky composes his rantings and berates his treatment by the publication and the world. If the essence of those moments on stage could be expanded to the whole production, the “Mad Bomber” could become riveting theater. Meaningless characters, pointless scenes and superfluous songs could be excised, replaced with material that would build to a gripping climax.

John Swanson, as George Metesky, gives a world-weary performance, but he comes across as more upset then someone who, at the end of his eventual trial, was declared a paranoid schizophrenic and legally insane. In addition to Cassie Okenka and Bobby Grouse, both who demonstrate wonderful singing voices; Matt Martin’s performance during “The Paris of Naugatuck Valley” is a highlight of the show.

The score by Richard DeRosa and Charles Monagan has some promising numbers but, like the libretto, needs work in crafting songs that better flesh out the characters in the show and more effectively move along the plot of the production.

Director Semina DeLaurentis works well with the material presented to her, but as the leader of the creative team needs, in this case, to function more as an editor, critic and cheerleader to further shape and mold the material; choreographer Janine Molinari needs to bring a consistent and appropriate style to the musical. Is tap and some ballroom dance steps germane to the thrust of the show?

The “Mad Bomber” – a promising premise that needs further development in order to realize its full potential, playing at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT now through June 26th.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011 Tony Awards

The real question tonight is how many Tonys will The Book of Mormon receive. I'll be blogging "live" all night long.

-Neil Patrick Harris' opening was a great introduction to the show. Maybe a bit too heavy on the gay emphasis for the country's midsection, but nice razzle dazzle.

-Ellen, it's the first award. Let'a wrap it up!

-"Brotherhoold of Man" number from How to Succeed is outstanding! Except why does the camera keep focusing off to the side during the song? Stay centered! Daniel Radcliffe seems much more self-assured and relaxed then when the show opened. He shows he can dance and sing. Should drum up business at the box office.

-Interesting idea to have John Leguizamo reminisce about his Broadway moment, but a tad too much.

-Normal Heart shaping up to be the big non-musical winner.

-Smart move for Catch Me If You Can to highlight "Don't Break the Rules" from the show. It was the best production number of the musical and allows the world to joyfully experience the talent of Norbert Leo Butz.

-Spiderman jokes were very funny even though Bono didn't seem over pleased. The gimmick is from Comedy Central's Tosh 2.0.

-Such a powerful show it's a shame The Scottsboro Boys closed after such a short run. Thank goodness it's going to be touring. Good number from the show even though it doesn't have the feel good nature of the other nominees.

-I wish The Book of Mormon number was either "Hello," "Two by Two," or "Turn It Off" instead of "I Believe." That would have really given the TV audience a much better idea of the show.

-Wow! Best part of the broadcast so far--Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris with their "Anything You Can Do" duet. That was a showstopper.

-WHAT???!!!! I can't believe John Larroquette wins Best Featured Actor in a Musical for How to Succeed. I didn't think he was very good at all. Rory O'Malley was soooo funny in The Book of Mormon. He should have won. Even Forrest McClendon and Colman Domingo from The Scottsboro Boys were better then Larroquette. Very disappointing.

-Is that the best they can show from Spiderman? Wake me when the song ends.

-I am so happy that the creative team from War Horse is being recognized. This was one show where sound, lighting, music, and effects were just as integral to the production's success as any other aspect of the show.

-Let's see, if my math is correct, I have The Book of Mormon down for six Tonys.

-Perfect number to introduce potential theatergoers to Sister Act.

-My favorite number from Memphis, "Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll." Nice promo for the show. I can't believe Chad Kimball and Montego Glover are still in the musical. Good for them and great for audiences.

-Congratulations to War Horse. I think they are up to five Tonys. I told you all to get your tickets early.

-You want to sell tickets to your show via the Tony broadcast? Step one--have a great song. Step two--have a triple threat actress such as Sutton Foster leading the way. Step three--throw in a rousing tap number. This production number is why Anything Goes will win Best Musical Revival and why Foster should win her second Tony Award.

-Again, let's stage a musical number strictly to sell tickets. This time to promote the all-star Company coming to hundreds of movie theaters across the country that will be charging $18.00 a pop to view the filmed production. Was I alone, or did others feel that "Side by Side" was a bit flat? Uninteresting?

-Daniel, slow down, relax. Have fun. Just wave a wand or something during the Best Actress announcements?

-I am so happy that I've been able to see Sutton Foster in most of her Broadway roles. She is soooo great.

-Why is it that I have no desire to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? And after their turn on stage my attitude is only amplified.

-As the 2011 Tony Award telecast comes to a close I would have to say this is one of the best Tony Award broadcasts I can remember. It was entertaining, had nice pacing, and real energy. Now, let's see what the fall-out will be.

-Congratulations to Mark Rylance for Best Actor. I preferred him in La Bete, which I love. Did not care for Jerusalem. Why does he always have to give such a rambling acceptance speech?

-So happy to see Norbert Leo Butz win. He is such a trooper, whether in a play, comedy, or musical. This just might save Catch Me If You Can from an early demise.

-Gee, how anti-climatic -- The Book of Mormon wins Best Musical. That brings them to eight total awards for the show. Good job.

-Chris Rock gets my nomination to host next year's awards. His few moments on stage were very funny. Unscripted, edgy, and funny. Neil Patrick Harris--fine job, once again.

-Playbill.com has posted Neil Patrick Harris' show ending rap, penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda of In the Heights fame.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Discounts to Broadway Shows

The other day I posted information about discount tickets to Broadway shows on TripAdvisor.com, my favorite site for seeking travel information and recommendations. With the summer tourist season about to begin in New York, I thought it would be helpful to reprint the information here.

1. The TKTS half-priced ticket booth in the middle of 46th and Broadway has A LOT of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows discounted up to 50% (there are also locations at the South Street Seaport and in Brooklyn). The booth sells same day tickets to shows, opening at 10am for matinees and 3pm for evening productions (you cannot buy evening tickets during 10am - 2pm). You always want to get in line with 4-5 choices. Sometimes you will find some of the hits up there, mostly Tuesday-Thursday nights, but don't count on finding Wicked, Lion King, or The Book of Mormon. The queue can be long, but goes fast. It is also a very friendly line. You meet the most interesting people from all over the world. The TKTS Booth now accepts credit card payment. There is a $4.00 per ticket surcharge for each ticket purchased.

2. Almost every Broadway show has a lottery and/or rush policy. You could score VERY inexpensive tickets.

3. Go to Broadwaybox.com. Choose a show and print out the discount coupon code page. Shows can be discounted up to 50% (again, not the most popular ones). You can order online, but the problem is they add an $8-$10 PER ticket surcharge. It is better to print out the coupon code page and bring them to NYC. I would suggest printing out coupons for 4-6 different shows. Go directly to the box office. There is no surcharge doing it this way, you get to choose your seat location, and you can purchase tickets when the box office opens which is usually around 10am. Check the coupon page, but for most shows you can purchase up to eight tickets per page.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review of "My One and Only" - Goodspeed Opera House

The cover of the program for the Goodspeed Opera House’s first show of the season, My One and Only, says it all – “A Tap Dance SPECTACULAR!” For aficionados of tap the musical, which consists of an all-Gershwin score, is a dream come true. Within the first five minutes the cast is hoofing it up with a sweeping production number on the small stage.


The show, a 1983 hit on Broadway for Tommy Tune and his friend, Twiggy, is a variation of the old standby of boy meets girl, boy loses girl and, in the end, boy gets girl. Billy Chandler, played with sprightliness and vigor by Tony Yazbeck, an aviator looking for fame and fortune by being the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, glimpses bathing beauty and English Channel crosser, Edythe Herbert, and his heart goes a thumping. Throw in her controlling Russian promoter, political intrigue, a salty female mechanic and even the Arabian nights, and you have the loopy, frivolous plot, crafted by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer, for My One and Only.

The storyline is not the reason for sashaying to East Haddam, CT, home of the Goodspeed Opera House. There are two more important motivations—the songs and the dancing. As mentioned before, the creators of the musical incorporate a slew of George and Ira Gershwin classics into the score. They include “High Hat,” “’S Wonderful,” “Strike Up the Band,” “Funny Face,” and the title number. They are delivered with polish and exuberance. Add the spirited dance routines choreographed with grace and abandon by Kelli Barclay, and you have all the ingredients for a buoyant and carefree theatrical experience.

One new feature of the production is the incorporation of a projection system, which heightens the realism and playfulness of the backdrops for the show. While affording the musical to go beyond the normal props and scenery, let’s hope the technology is used accordingly in subsequent offerings and does not take away the intimacy and charm, hallmarks of the Opera House.

Tony Yazbeck as the flying ace, Billy Chandler, is more country boy hayseed as opposed to the formal elegance of Tommy Tune’s original.
His “aw shucks” demeanor works well within the framework of this production. What really matters, though, is he’s a tap dancing whirlwind with a fine singing voice and strong stage presence. Gabrielle Ruiz, as his love interest, Edythe Herbert, is too aloof in her role and she and Yazbeck have little chemistry as a couple. Kirsten Wyatt, as the aviator mechanic, Mickey, is the requisite comic foil, even though some of her lines and antics were a bit over-the-top. Alde Lewis, Jr., as the proprietor of Mr. Magix’ Emporial, while a lowkey presence during his scenes, primarily seated in a barber chair, is a proficient dancer. His singing and dancing with Tony Yazbeck during the Gershwin classic, “My One and Only,” was the highlight of the show.

Director Ray Roderick takes all the components of the musical, shakes well, and pours out a tuneful, dancing extravaganza that is sure to be a crowd pleaser during the first part of the summer. My One and Only, now through June 25th at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bit Parts

Every so often there are topics I want to address That I can’t impart within 140 characters on my Twitter account, but are too short for a full blog entry. Therefore, my inaugural Bit Parts, which will be an amalgamation of shorter musings.

  1. The Book of Mormon is the huge hit of the current Broadway season, playing to over 100% capacity each week. Are you curious to know what all the fuss is about? There is a MySpace page where you can receive a FREE listen. This is not a download, but a no-strings-attached way to hear the complete score.

    Interestingly, as I played the songs it struck me how visual The Book of Mormon is. The songs are funny, witty and, to some degree, profane, but unless you have seen the show you would not get all the jokes. Naturally, you could say this about most musicals, but I cannot think of a recent show where this is so prevalent.

  2. Does anyone remember a show called Spiderman? Well, it’s back! The revamped production is set to open in mid-June. This time I would be shocked if it doesn’t actually, officially, really, truly open this time around. However, don’t you feel the hoopla from the previous six months has deflated the excitement and enthusiasm for the show?

  3. Kristen Chenoweth is planning to star in a revival of the Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical, On the Twentieth Century. The underappreciated 1978 production garnered Tony Awards for Kevin Kline and John Cullum and made a star of Judy Kaye after Madeline Kahn left the show after only a couple of months. The role of Lily Garland would be a perfect fit for Chenoweth as opposed to her previous stint in the revival of Promises, Promises. Let’s hope they can cast strong male leads in order to give the musical its proper balance.

  4. War Horse, my choice for Best Play, has not been receiving a lot of love from the early theater award groups. Jerusalem seems to be the leading choice. However, many of these esteemed bodies have cited War Horse for special citations to recognize the noteworthy achievement by the creative team behind the production. My question – if these groups are so enamored with War Horse why not just acknowledge it as the Best Play? Maybe it’s just too commercial for their tastes.

  5. Wonderland is the first new spring musical to post its closing notice, delivering its last performance on May 15th. While the show is flawed it does have some merit—especially its eclectic score. Unfortunately, in today’s hard economic reality, unless you are a certifiable hit or receive respectable reviews a show’s longevity is slim. In the days when attending a Broadway show—play or musical—didn’t cost a king’s ransom a show like Wonderland could carve out a decent run. It’s too bad we now have a feast or famine state of affairs.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Idina Menzel in Concert - Hartford, CT, May 6th

There was a lovefest the other night at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts where Idina Menzel made a stop on her cross-country concert tour. As soon as the Broadway and television star entered center stage, fronting the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, the audience erupted in applause and adoration. A Tony Award winning actress for Wicked, Menzel has gained greater popularity for her appearances on the television show Glee. Leveraging this populous fame, the newly minted Dr. Menzel (having received an honorary doctorate earlier in the day from C.W. Post University) has embarked on her current concert schedule.

The intermission-less, one and one-half hour program included just over one dozen songs (not including the compositions she sang about her son, Walker), which I found to be slightly unfulfilling. There could have been less of the cute, sometimes self-deprecating and rambling, banter between numbers and more selections that featured her powerful, soaring soprano. Hearing the Long Island native live was truly an enthralling and entertaining experience. There are few performers, nowadays, that can captivate an audience singing a cappella in such a large venue (as she did with “For Good” from Wicked), belt one to the rafters (“Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl), or tenderly wrap a ballad together as she demonstrated with “Love for Sale” by Cole Porter.

The collection of songs mixed Broadway (“Look to the Rainbow” from Finian’s Rainbow and a number of songs from Wicked), pop (“Roxanne” by The Police and “Poker Face” from Lady Gaga) to her originally penned song, “Gorgeous.”

While I would have preferred more singing from Ms. Menzel, I did find her very open with a cheerful, playful personality. You could tell she was honestly happy to be performing for all the fans in attendance. Her heartfelt love to the audience was reciprocated many times over during the evening performance.

The Hartford Symphony Orchestra was a magnificent back-up to the singer. Their full, lush sound provided a thrilling complement to the vocal theatrics of Ms. Menzel. Let’s hope she keeps Hartford in mind for future visits.

Friday, May 6, 2011

2011 Tony Musings

The Tony nominations are out and everyone seems to have an opinion. Including myself. Here are my musings, mostly about the musical nominees since I’ve been able to see most of them. So, in no particular order:

  1. Best Musical – Right now The Book of Mormon is the clear-cut favorite, a critical and commercial hit. Some people seemed surprised that The Scottsboro Boys was included on the list since it only played 49 performances before closing last December, but that show was riveting theater and definitely deserved one of the nominated slots. It is a shame the musical is still not playing. First, because it was a solid, thought-provoking production. Second, it would have made a real race out of the Best Musical award. As for now, in a season populated by mediocre offerings, The Book of Mormon and The Scottsboro Boys were the two sure bets for nominations. While I do believe The Book of Mormon will win the Tony for Best Musical of the Year, don’t count out The Scottsboro Boys.

  2. Best Original Score – A lot is being made of the fact that this is the first time in 14 years where this category features completely original scores. While I applaud, this is no standing ovation moment since, besides The Book of Mormon and The Scottsboro Boys, the other nominated scores are blase at best. One score that should have been selected was for the play, War Horse. Adrian Sutton’s music heightens the emotion and tension of the show. I would have also liked to see Wonderland get a nod. Yes, it’s not a great show, but the score is more consistently entertaining then most this season. The winner? Probably The Book of Mormon, but wouldn’t it be nice for the last John Kander/Fred Ebb Broadway score, to be recognized?

  3. Interesting that there were only two musical revivals this year when, in year’s past, it seemed most musicals that opened during a season were revivals.

  4. I have seen my fair share of the non-musicals this year. For me, clearly, the most outstanding production was War Horse. I haven’t been as moved and entertained by a show in years. My pick for Best Play.

  5. Jerusalem seems to be the darling of the critics. As my review attests, it wasn’t one of my favs. Friends that went with me wholeheartedly agreed. Reading reviews and other comments on the show I can’t help think of the Emperor’s New Clothes. People seem to see something that just isn’t there.

  6. Best Actor in a Musical – Tough category! But first, who didn’t get a nomination? How about Aaron Tveit? How could the Tony Committee not select him for Catch Me If You Can? While nominee Norbert Leo Butz is one of my favorite actors, Tveit deserved recognition for his portrayal of the wily and energetic conman, Frank Abagnale, Jr. Next, Benjamin Walker from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. His charismatic swagger and confidence was what made the show. Lastly, Daniel Ratcliffe. Give him kudos for jumping into a musical comedy role, but his performance in How to Succeed in Business was adequate at best. I thought it was rather ridiculous to read one writer complain about his snub because he had put in so many months learning how to sing and dance. If that’s all it took! So, who will win? My vote, drum roll please, goes to Joshua Henry from The Scottsboro Boys. He was the powerful core to that show. Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad from The Book of Mormon were hysterically funny, but Joshua Henry was the very soul of The Scottsboro Boys.

  7. Best Actress in a Musical – No debate: Sutton Foster wins Tony number two.

  8. Best Featured Actor in a Musical – Even tougher then Best Actor. Again, a face-off between The Book of Mormon and The Scottsboro Boys. I was not impressed with John Larroquette’s J.B. Biggley in How to Succeed in Business. Adam Godley was fine as the eccentric Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in Anything Goes, but neither were of the caliber of Rory O’Malley from The Book of Mormon and Colman Domingo and Forrest McClendon from The Scottsboro Boys. The latter three were simply outstanding—O’Malley as the hilarious Elder McKinley in The Book of Morman and Domingo and McClendon as, respectively, Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, among other characters they played, in The Scottsboro Boys. Any one of them would be a fine choice with me, but as more of a musical-comedy person, I’d like to see O’Malley win.

  9. Best Direction/Choreography of a Musical – It used to be that a director directed and a choreographer choreographed. Nowadays, it’s not unusual for both positions to be filled by the same person. Such is the case this year where all four nominees for Best Director and Best Choreographer are one and the same (the exception being Trey Parker who is nominated as a co-director of The Book of Mormon, but not as a Best Choreographer). I was unimpressed with Rob Ashford, from How to Succeed in Business, in both categories. For director, it will probably be The Book of Mormon juggernaut with Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker, but my vote would go to Susan Stroman for The Scottsboro Boys. I just think she brought more directorial vision to that production. Kathleen Marshall should snag the choreographer award for Anything Goes, just for the scintillating dance number to end Act I.

The last comment/question is will The Book of Mormon, with 14 nominations, break or tie The Producers for most Tonys (they won 12)? It will be tough, but even though there could be significant competition from The Scottsboro Boys, Tony voters like to go with a winner and The Book of Mormon is most certainly a bona fide winner. We’ll have to wait until Sunday, June 12th at 8pm to find out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review of "Sister Act"

Sister Act, the new musical based on the movie of the same name, can be viewed as two different musicals. When the action takes place in the convent, Sister Act is a spirited, lively and entertaining Broadway musical. But outside the cloistered walls of the church, the production languishes in plot exposition, matter-of-fact performances, and underwhelming songs. Obviously, when the show is under the guidance and protection of the Lord, Sister Act is a rollicking good time but, unfortunately, you can’t build a successful musical with half the goods.

The general plot follows the movie storyline as would-be disco diva, Deloris Van Cartier (Patina Miller) witnesses a gangland slaying by her sleazy mobster boyfriend, Curtis Jackson, (Kingsley Leggs). Seeking protection from the police, she encounters officer Eddie Souther (Chester Gregory) who just happens to be a high school classmate that also, conveniently, had a huge crush on the threatened woman in his younger days. He whisks her away to a local convent to keep her out-of-sight and safe. At the convent a clash of cultures occur, primarily, between the exuberant and feisty Deloris and the dignified and restrained Mother Superior (divinely played by Victoria Clark).

Van Cartier, told to keep a low profile, instead takes over the solemn, but rather pathetic, church choir turning it into a heavenly sensation. They become a media darling which, or course, leads the bad guys to the convent where, after a brief, chaotic chase through the hollowed grounds, the gangsters are caught and a happy ending prevails.

The main reason to see Sister Act is Patina Miller. She plays Van Cartier with dynamism and gusto. Her powerful voice energizes the stage and shakes the very foundation of Klara Zieglerova’s beautifully conceived and sometimes whimsical sets of the inner sanctums of the church. Miller’s scenes with the gaggle of cloistered nuns provide a continuous humorous thread throughout the production. Standouts among them include Sarah Bolt, Marla Mindelle, and Audrie Neenan. Victoria Clark, as the Mother Superior, gives a more measured performance. However, this allows the actress to deadpan her way through the musical, showing great comic timing with her slow burns and double takes and entendres. Chester Gregory is laid back as policeman “Sweaty” Eddie Souther. While sometimes too nonchalant in his role, he does have a fine voice and some good dance moves.

The music from composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater mirrors the show itself. While in the convent the score pulsates with high-octane and disco-inflected numbers such as “Raise Your Voice,” and “Sunday Morning Fever.” Otherwise, the songs are more routine and conventional.

The original book for the pre-Broadway productions of Sister Act, including the London run, was by television writers, Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, but the current version is now attributed more to Douglas Carter Beane. Regardless of who takes credit for what, the libretto for the show is perfunctory with flashes of playfulness and amusement.

Director Jerry Zak has done better work previously. He does demonstrate his comedic flair while, surprise, surprise, we are in the confines of the church, but outside the prying eyes of the lord the production limps along until we are back on holy ground.

Sister Act, like many new musicals this year, a big fat average.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

B'way Radio Show Fundraiser

Tomorrow, Sunday, May 1, 2011 is my slot for our radio station’s annual fundraising drive. During the weekly broadcast of my Broadway music program, On Broadway, I'll be asking for your donations from 5:30-6:30 pm EST. WRTC-FM, the radio station of Trinity College in Hartford, CT has been seeking donations all week throughout their programming schedule. We are fortunate that this request for donations occurs only once a year.

You can call in a pledge (860-297-2450) during my program or email me a pledge at broadway99@comcast.net. I would just need your full name, mailing address, home phone number and the amount of the pledge. For $25.00 or more you can receive either a WRTC-FM T-Shirt (list size) OR a cast album CD (list 2-3 choices). Postage in the United States is FREE; outside the U.S. add $5.00.

Here is a list of the available cast album CDs:
  • Carousel (1965 Lincoln Center revival)
  • City of Angels
  • Drowsy Chaperone
  • 42nd Street (original cast)
  • How to Succeed in Business (original cast)
  • Kean
  • Mame
  • Oliver (original Broadway cast)
  • Peter Pan (with Mary Martin)
  • Promises, Promises (recent revival)
  • Sister Act (London cast)
  • Sail Away
  • Salvation
  • 1776 (original Broadway cast)
  • [title of show]
  • Whoopi Goldberg's 20th Anniversary One Woman Show
  • Wonderland
Solo CDs that are available:
  • Linda Eder, Now (just released)
  • Sutton Foster, Wish
  • Brian Stokes Mitchell
If you enjoy hearing Broadway music, enjoy the convenience of being able to subscribe to my weekly podcast of the show, or hear real time streaming of the program, and hearing reviews of Broadway productions, please consider donating. Thanks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review of "War Horse"

War Horse, a big hit on the London stage, now receiving its Broadway premiere at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, is pure and simple riveting and captivating drama. The play, based on the children’s book by British author, Michael Morpugro, is renowned—and decidedly so—for its use of life-sized puppets to simulate the horses at the center of the story. Operated by three puppeteers, they breathe life into the young and mature creatures. They playfully romp around the stage, arch upward in anger or fright, and exhibit affection with a gentle nuzzle and the twitch of an inquisitive ear. Very soon you begin to form an emotional attachment to these creations as your imagination takes over and you come to believe they are fully realized animals. It is truly remarkable what Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of the South African Handspring Puppet Company have accomplished.

The backdrop of War Horse is the horror and tedium of World War I. Initially, though, we are introduced to young Albert Narracott, portrayed with exuberance and wonder by Seth Numrich, as he comes into possession of a young foal he names Joey. Within a few years the bond between the two is strong and unyielding. But then the War to End All Wars intervenes and, through a series of events, Albert’s treasured horse is sent overseas to serve in the cavalry of the British Army on the plains of France. Soon, though underage, Albert enlists in order to find his beloved steed. There is, of course, much more to the plot of War Horse, but revealing further details would be unfair and unwarranted. Why spoil the emotional rollercoaster that this production generates?

Emotion is the key word for War Horse. From almost the start we are drawn into the story and are continually captivated and enchanted. But it is not just the strength of the narrative that bewitches and mesmerizes. All the separate components of the show—lighting, sound, scenery, projections, and music--have united to create a powerful, yet poignant whole. The artistic team’s work is most brilliantly conveyed as the action switches to the war front--panic and terror become so illuminated by the flashes and resonance of bombs exploding; the simple, yet affective overhead projections that bring a sketchbook’s renderings of the war to life; the muted, but evocative set pieces; and especially the music by Adrian Sutton. His background compositions heightened the on-stage tension and mood swings like the best movie soundtrack. Don’t be surprised if he receives a Tony nomination for Best Score.

Directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris work brilliantly to bring the illusion and enchantment of War Horse, with its large company of actors and aforementioned creative elements, to life. There is a lot to juggle in the production and Elliott and Morris, along with Toby Sedgwick, billed as director of movement and horse movement, are in perfect harmony presenting what is nothing short of theatrical magic.

While the attention throughout the show is justifiably focused on the equine creations, the actors and actresses are, likewise, an integral part of the show. They breathe life into the story, humanizing the wartime atmosphere at home and abroad as well as putting an all too real face on the horror of the conflict. Seth Numrich, as the farm boy turned soldier, Albert Narracott, is the center of attention in this superbly acted show but, in reality, this is an ensemble piece with each performer perfectly fitted into the production.

Kudos also go to Nick Stafford for his sure-handed, beautifully crafted adaptation of Michael Morpugro’s book which, in my opinion, is the best non-musical of the year.

War Horse, a theatrical event that needs to be experienced live—don’t wait for the Steven Spielberg movie version—and the intimate, 1,100 seat Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center is the perfect location.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review of "Jerusalem"

Dramatic tension is a necessary element for any thoughtful, serious piece of work. Without this essential ingredient the audience becomes less absorbed with the action on stage. In addition, if the characters are not too intriguing or complex or have few, if any, redeeming qualities an audience’s engagement is even less focused.

These are the two compelling problems with the London import, Jerusalem. Nothing of significance occurs during the three-hour production and you never connect with the assorted social misfits and malcontents populating the show.

The play revolves around Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a drunk, drug dealer, and disaffected agitator whose broken down trailer has been squatting on the public, wooded land of a small English village for decades. He parties out-of-bounds with no consideration for the area’s residents. Like moths to a flame, he attracts underage teenagers; alienated, young adults, and other assorted oddballs to his ramshackle, garbage-strewn site. They come for a hit of whiz (cocaine) and to forget about their pathetic lives in the real-world. The crux of the plot revolves around the impending eviction of “Rooster” from his hole-in-the-wall plot of land. Throughout the play, with his forceable removal lingering in the air like some rotten stench, we hear the depressing and woebegone tales from his so-called friends and past relationships. The stories could be seen as a commentary on small town life by disaffected individuals, but playwright Jez Butterworth doesn’t present a compelling, overly coherent narrative to bolster this viewpoint. Instead there is just a lot of loquacious bantering.

Mark Rylance, who made such an indelible impression on theater-goers last fall in La Bete, stars as “Rooster” Byron. From the start Rylance embraces his character with flamboyant gusto. He is at turns comic, vindictive, and philosophical. He is also almost everyone’s worst nightmare. The problem is his contemptuous and unsubmissive profile is so galling and audacious that you become numb to his presence and shennanigans. The rest of the cast is uneven. However, Mackenzie Crook is effective as “Rooster’s” one “friend,” Ginger. He is sufficiently disassociated from the world outside “Rooster’s” domain. He is a sorry lapdog constantly in need of attention and ridicule. Alan David is mischievous and the personification of eccentricity as the Professor, and Max Baker is lamentable as Wesley, the downcast pub owner.

Playwright Butterworth has crafted a show with much talk, tomfoolery, and even sporadic humor. But the major plot lines never take flight; the characters are just too pathetic and unsympathetic. By the time of the play’s climatic scene I had become so disengaged I really could have cared less at what was happening on stage.

Director Ian Rickson tries to keep the actors busy with bits of buffoonery and heightened promulgations but, in the end, with the characters ruminating and examining their meager lives there’s not much Rickson can do to breathe life into the production.

Jerusalem, three hours of blather better spent elsewhere.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Review of "Wonderland"

Take the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland, add some sass and attitude and you have a thumbnail sketch of the new, entertaining, somewhat muddled musical, Wonderland. Entertaining because of the eclectic score by Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy which echo such familiar sounds as Carlos Santana’s guitar riffs (“Go With the Flow”) and boy groups ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys (“One Knight”), along with some high octane rockers (“The Mad Hatter” and “I Will Prevail), as well as typical Wildhorn-Murphy power ballads (“Once More I Can See”). What makes Wonderland different from some of their past efforts, like Jekyll and Hyde and Dracula, is less grandiose, over-the-top compositions and more diversity and sustained tunefulness of the score. As the host of a Broadway music radio program I would have no problem playing over half the songs on my show.

This Wonderland plays off themes of believing in oneself, togetherness, and recapturing one’s childhood. The story starts off in Queens, New York with Alice, a harried working mother, who has marital problems, a young, precocious child and an overbearing mother-in-law to contend with. After a hard day at her teaching job she falls asleep on her daughter’s bed where she awakes to, yes, the White Rabbit running through the bedroom. Following him down the freight elevator of her apartment building she finds herself among the creatures and characters of Wonderland. Alice, played with an endearing edginess and determination by Janet Dacal, just wants to find her way home a la The Wizard of Oz. In fact, a lot about Wonderland emulates this Hollywood classic. Alice even has three friends to help her return—the Caterpillar; El Gato, the Cheshire Cat; and the frightened Cowardly Lion, I mean, White Rabbit. The Queen of Hearts is not the evil witch here. That honor is taken by The Mad Hatter, played with a menacing glee by Kate Shindle. She is Alice or is Alice she? This is where the book, primarily in the second Act, becomes a bit muddled. Where Act I breezes by with an assured sense of direction, adding some wit, humor and topical references, i.e. “The Tea Party” movement, the second half of the musical has trouble finding its voice. Does it want to be a merry romp through Wonderland? An action-packed chase to rescue the damsel in distress? A cerebral meditation? Or, maybe a dominatrix-led funhouse? Or a combination of all of the above? The problem is Director Gregory Boyd is also the bookwriter for the show. A Director without the additional responsibility for the libretto might have tightened up the loose ends or had the gaps in the show filled-in to make the scenes on stage flow less haphazardly. Director Boyd adds pace to the production as well as allowing the more tender moments to play through, but Wonderland seems more a series of individually structured moments as opposed to a more cohesive whole.

What does work quite well are the video projections utilized throughout the musical to augment the show’s sets and whimsical costumes. I’m not a great fan of such a system—when they don’t work properly the whole show suffers--but for Wonderland, Sven Ortel’s psychedelic renderings are a perfect fit to the mind altering mood and atmosphere the creative teams wants portrayed.

The cast is uniformly sound with Dacal, as Alice, and Shindle, as the demented Mad Hatter, the standouts, along with young Carly Rose Sonenclar, as Alice’s daughter, Chloe. Her powerful singing voice was a true highlight of the musical. It was unfortunate she one had a few opportunities to show-off her talent. Darren Ritchie as Jack the White Knight provides the requisite heroic testosterone, and Karen Mason, the necessary comic relief as the Queen of Hearts. Marguerite Derricks’ choreography was underwhelming with just a few flashes of distinction and nuance.

Wonderland, a solid musical effort that is more consolation prize instead of sure fire hit.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review of "Catch Me If You Can"

I have to give credit to the creative team for their concept of the new, problematic musical, Catch Me If You Can, based on the true life story of young con-artist, Frank Abagnale, Jr., familiar to many from the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie of the same name. Combining a 1960’s television variety show format with a straight ahead narrative structure, Catch Me If You Can starts off with promise and pizzazz. The musical opens at the end of the story with flimflammer Abagnale, played with vitality and nervous energy by Aaron Tveit, surrounded by F.B.I. agents in an airport passenger lounge. As they begin to close in Abagnale’s gilded tongue attempts, once again, to talk his way out of a no-win situation. Stepping out of character, he implores F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty, a baffled and bewildered Norbet Leo Butz, to listen to his story. Before the agent has a chance to reply, the waiting area slowly transforms into a variety show setting, complete with Hullabaloo styled dancers and an onstage orchestra clad in white dinner jackets. In the energetic production number that follows, “Live in Living Color,” a bouncy, tuneful and exhilarating way to start the show, the young schemer begins to unfold his tale.

Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets as Catch Me If You Can’s narrative structure, ricocheting between the dream-like, showbiz razmataz world envisioned by Frank, Jr. and the traditional musical, story telling structure fail to mesh into a cohesive whole. The book, as written by Terrence McNally, requires too much exposition to the audience by Tveit’s Abagnale. Breaking the fourth wall is fine, but when the device becomes overused the flow of the production stalls. Being, essentially, a chase around the globe to apprehend the conman, there is a lot of running here and there which unnecessarily handcuffs Norbet Leo Butz as the tired, frazzled F.B.I. agent in charge of the case. Only during the song, “Don’t Break the Rules,” is the actor afforded the opportunity to break free from the exasperated Hanratty role and really demonstrate his musical comedy chops.

Looking to focus less on the pursuit, the relationship between Frank, Jr. and Frank, Sr. is heightened in order to humanize the characters and give the audience an emotional core. However, the interplay between Tveit’s Frank, Jr. and Tom Wopat’s Frank, Sr. lacks a passionate resonance, which flattens their encounters. Wopat is too aloof and reserved. Emotions are not his character’s strong point and the results produce disconnected interactions between father and son that doesn’t envelope the audience and its sympathies. Kerry Butler, as Frank Abagnale’s fiancĂ©, Brenda Strong, finds herself in a role that underutilizes her well-honed skills as a musical theater actress. Her one shining moment, the power ballad, “Fly, Fly, Away,” near the end of the production seems more like an afterthought.

Aaron Tveit, pinging across the stage masquerading as an airline pilot, a doctor and lawyer, has the good looks, powerhouse voice and dancing agility to make him a star. Regrettably, Catch Me If You Can is not the vehicle. Personally, I think he would be a boffo J. Pierpont Finch in the revival of How to Succeed in Business, playing just a few blocks south.

The songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the composer and lyricist behind the hit, Hairspray, is such a disappointment. Instead of tuneful melodies that might emulate the go-go 60’s, we are supplied with a serviceable score that functions more to move the plot along then entertain and celebrate the wild ride we expected from the show’s onset.

Director Jack O’Brien cannot seem to remedy the inherent problem with the musical’s structure, which bounces from carefree bantering to emotive, soul-searching scenes. The result is more a hodgepodge then a unified vision.

Jerry Mitchell's choreography has two rousing and spirited numbers, mentioned above, but the remainder of the musical's dances becomes more perfunctory as the show progresses.

Sporadically entertaining, Catch Me If You Can, more low cost carrier then jet airliner.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review of "Anything Goes"

Sutton Foster is clearly the star of the understated, occasionally high-octane revival of Anything Goes. Foster has demonstrated year-in and year-out that she is one of the best musical comedy comediennes on Broadway. Her powerful, multi-octave voice, athleticism, and dizzying dancing skills add luster to any production featuring her. As nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, in Anything Goes, she adds one more Tony worthy performance to her repertoire.

However, one could argue, the real star of the show is the Cole Porter score which includes such classics as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Friendship,” “It’s De-Lovely,” and “Anything Goes.” And that’s just in Act One! Many of the songs are lovingly presented with just two performers out in front of the mammoth cruise ship set, singing and dancing. Unlike the current revival of How to Succeed in Business, where busyness is the norm in all the musical numbers, Anything Goes’ Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall focuses on the songs and performers. At times I hoped a chorus line would materialize onstage, but that would have been a distraction and taken away from the very essence of Porter’s ballads and comedic duets. At the end of Act One the musical finally does deliver a full-blown, intoxicating tap dancing extravaganza by the entire cast. I think, at its conclusion, the audience was just as wired at the actors on stage.

The second Act continues with a spirited production number by Sutton Foster and the cast of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and then, for the most part, settles down to sort out the silly plot lines of the book. The libretto by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, with new material by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, is typical of 1930’s musicals where the storyline is secondary and the jokes can make you wince. In Anything Goes, which takes place about a transatlantic cruise ship, there’s the requisite mistaken identities, seemingly unrequited love of the two young protagonists, and a happy ending where all loose ends are magically resolved and true love wins out for everyone .

Colin Donnell as the debonair, sure-minded, Billy Crocker and Laura Osnes, as the flustered debutante, Hope Harcourt, are fine as the two lovers trying to come together. They look good together and even though their relationship is complicated by Harcourt’s impending marriage to Lord Oakleigh you know the couple will eventually end up in each other’s arms. Seventy-nine year old Joel Grey, is at his impish best as Public Enemy Number 13, Moonface Martin. Grey can still nimbly cavort around the stage and hold his own against his much younger mates.

Martin Pakledinaz’s costume designs add a lushness and elegance to the show, richly bringing out the high style swankiness of transatlantic travel.

Director/Choreographer Marshall is at her best staging the large dance numbers, but also gently caresses the more low volume ballads. She keeps the large cast engaged and in step as they basically move into position for the next Cole Porter delight.

Anything Goes, a musical theater classic, now setting sail from the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review of "The Book of Mormon"

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the men behind Comedy Central’s long-running animated hit, South Park, have regularly incorporated elements of musical theater into their outrageously funny creation. Now, they have invaded Broadway and, along with Avenue Q veteran, Robert Lopez, have written the book, music and lyrics to the uproariously entertaining, sometimes provocative musical, The Book of Mormon.

Anyone familiar with Parker and Stone’s work knows that some of the characters will be foul-mouthed and situations will be compromising and irreverent. The Book of Mormon delivers on all counts…and more. The production pokes fun at, gently mocks, and occasionally skewers Mormonism, but never maliciously. The premise of the musical is simple enough. Two mismatched Mormon missionaries, hoping for a plum missionary assignment are, instead, assigned to Uganda and shipped off to rescue the souls of this African nation. Andrew Rannells, is the handsome, squeaky clean, tightly wound idealistic member of the twosome. Josh Gad, a dumpy, disheveled, loud mouth liar is his unlikely partner. Together they enter a world of poverty, AIDs, warlords, and indifference by the villager’s they are charged to save. Of course the harebrained solution to convince their disinterested flock to see the light is, in typical South Park fashion, off the wall and absurd, but would you expect anything different?

The book and score veer from good-natured sweetness, as with the opening number, “Hello,” to the wildly subversive “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” production number where Hilter; Genghis Khan; serial murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer; and O.J. defender, Johnny Cochran sing and dance. The creative triumvirate pays homage to Broadway’s past with a vulgar take-off of “Hukuna Matata” from The Lion King, “Hasa Diga Eebowai;” and an equally inappropriate send-up of the “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” from The King and I, “Joseph Smith American Moses.”

The score is surprisingly tuneful and inventive. The direction is crisp and sure-footed, with a dash of zaniness.

The whole cast is top-notch. Besides Rannells and Gad, the musical’s male ensemble of missionaries must be acknowledged. These six actors are an integral part of the show. Led by Rory O’Malley as Elder McKinley, the group provides some of the most hilarious, belly-laughing moments of the musical. Their clap-on, clap-off, tap dancing extravaganza in “Turn It Off” is priceless.

The Book of Mormon, a must for South Park fans as well as the rest of mankind.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

National Tour of "Next to Normal"

A mother with a bi-polar disorder and her family struggling with this paralyzing situation is the basis for the searing musical, Next to Normal. The national tour is playing at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT through Sunday, April 3, 2011.

The portrayal of a family at the precipice and how each member copes with their inner tensions, angst, and personal crises is riveting theater. Brian Yorkey’s libretto draws you into their individual anguishes, their setbacks, and small victories. It has been a long time since I have become so absorbed and emotionally involved with characters portrayed on stage.

All six actors are outstanding, which you would expect from a national tour, but do not always encounter. Each member of the company brings a strong intelligence and sensitivity to their role as well as a powerful singing voice to the Bushnell stage. Leading the cast is Alice Ripley, recreating her Tony Award winning role as the mother, Diana. Her performance is heartfelt and shattering. Also, to have a Tony Award winner leading a national company is a rare treat, one that should be taken advantage of by area theater-goers.

The raw energy and urgency of the rock-infused score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey amplifies the edginess and distress on stage. The music and lyrics convey the hurt, desperation, and even hope by the characters and demonstrates why the show’s score beat out Billy Elliot for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Score.

Director Michael Greif coaxes heart-wrenching performances from each actor as he slowly builds the emotional level of the show to its ultimate climax. He works in perfect tandem with Mark Wendland’s multi-level set, with its chain-linked motif an apt metaphor for the prison-like, caged feelings of the protagonists.

Next to Normal, musical theater at its best. At the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT through Sunday, April 3, 2011.