Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What's Up With Broadway This Season?

-->
For Broadway musical aficionados the first half of the 2012-2013 season has been one of the worst in recent memory.  Let’s look at some of the numbers—only four new musicals have opened since August.  One of these, A Christmas Story - The Musical, can be certified as a hit.  Based on the beloved holiday movie the show, for the week of December 16th, is playing to 99% capacity with the average ticket price just over $102.00 (average of the inexpensive balcony seats, mezzanine, and orchestra).  This made it the fourth highest grossing musical—new or continuing—on Broadway.  Not bad.  But A Christmas Story - The Musical is a limited run and will be closing on December 30th.

The other three, Bring It On—The Musical, Chaplin, and Scandalous, either have already closed or will be doing so within the next two weeks.  By January 6th there will be no original musical playing on Broadway.  You could argue that Bring It On was a success since the producers originally planned a limited run on Broadway after an extensive national tour.  Opening on August 1, 2012 the production was suppose to close on October 7th, but was extended to January 20, 2013.  Soft ticket sales backed up the closing date to December 30, 2012.

Chaplin will close after less then four months on Broadway.  In my review I praised Act I, but Act II was a mess and the score is rather forgettable.  I’m surprised the musical stayed open this long.  Only Rob McClure’s performance as Chaplin was noteworthy and Tony voters will not forget later this spring. 

Scandalous, shuttered its doors after four weeks.  With uniformly unflattering reviews its claim to fame is that book and lyrics were by television personality Kathie Lee Gifford.

Three revivals have opened this fall and two, Elf and Annie, are doing well at the box office.  While not selling out they are playing at 86% and 87% capacity (as of the week of December 16th), respectively.  Their average ticket price indicates not a huge number of discount tickets being sold.  But, Elf is also a limited run show and will be shutting down on January 6th.  The third show, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is a rousing success, but is struggling mightily.  Scheduled as a limited run through March 13, 2013 don’t be surprised if it closes beforehand. 

That’s the complete fall musical season.  Not very impressive.  When you factor in the bizarre circumstances surrounding the collapse of financing for the musical Rebecca, that was due to open in November, it makes the beginning of the Broadway season even more disastrous.

So, what does a Broadway musical fan do?  For new productions we will simply have to hold-off until April.  That’s when Motown - the Musical, Cindy Lauper’s Kinky Boots, and the London smash hit Matilda, open on Broadway.  There might be a few more new shows (Diner – The Musical, with a score by pop star Sheryl Crow, is planned for April 2013, but…) and a smattering of revivals, but as of this posting that’s it.  Why do we all need to wait until then?  There are many potential answers or combination of possibilities—the economy, the ability to raise the necessary funds to capitalize a show, theater availability, and producers wanting to open as close to the Tony Award deadline as possible, which will be near the end of April 2013.

If these three musicals are hits as well as a few other new shows and revivals then our disappointment with the first part of the 2012-2013 season will be a memory.  Right now both Kinky Boots and Matilda seem like surefire winners.  Kinky Boots received enthusiastic reviews in its Chicago pre-Broadway tryout this past October and Matilda ran away with the 2012 Olivier Awards (London’s equivalent to the Tony Awards) including Best Musical.  We can only hope a precocious schoolgirl with magical powers and a bevy of footwear fetish drag queens can save the Broadway musical season.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"


Bawdy and raucous, the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood has something that has been missing from most musicals this Broadway season—fun.  The actors on stage are full of boisterous merriment, which spills over to the audience who, in turn, are having a rib-tickling time in their seats.

Set in a 19th century London music hall, the stock players of the establishment’s company set out to enact Charles Dickens’ uncompleted novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”  Dickens, unfortunately, passed on before he could finish his tale.  The actors on stage, having a jolly good time, sing, dance, plot, scheme, and entertain until they reach the end of the novel.  Well, more like where Dickens stopped writing.  From there, playwright and composer Rupert Holmes came up with the ingenious solution of having the audience vote for how the show will conclude—who is the villain?  The suspects are lined up center stage while the ensemble members of the cast flood the audience to record, unscientifically, their preferences.  The chosen culprit, along with the rest of the cast, then enacts a proper ending to the story.  Holmes concocted enough scenarios so no matter who is chosen the production has a satisfying conclusion.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood has a first-rate group of actors that are more then game to play along with the premise of the show.  Not only are they skilled in their roles but, as mentioned earlier, they give the air of close-knit camaraderie and affection towards each other, which bubbles over to the audience.  The cast includes the wise-cracking Chairman of the troupe of players, Jim Norton; the slightly crazed John Jasper, played with a frenzied madness by Will Chase; the mysterious Edwin Drood, winningly portrayed by Stephanie Block; the innocent beauty Rosa Bud, played with virtue and purity by Betsy Wolfe; and the ever-youthful Broadway legend Chita Rivera as the enigmatic Princess Puffer.  Gregg Edelman, Jessie Mueller, and Andy Karl round out the fine cast.

Rupert Holmes, in the original production, won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score of a Musical.  The honors were well-deserved.  The book of the show, in a boisterous music hall setting, is lively and intriguing, satisfactorily leading up to the pre-denouement of the musical. 

Holmes’ score is tuneful and lilting, which is something you don’t always hear on today’s Broadway stage.  From the opening introductory song, “There You Are,” to the comic madness of “A Man Could Go Quite Mad,” to the beautifully haunting, “Moonfall,” to the fast-paced patter of “Two Sides of the Coin,” Holmes has written both music and lyrics, which even twenty-five years later, sounds fresh and engaging.

The composer also benefits from a group of actors that can deliver.  Most notable is Stephanie Block, finally in a hit musical after such flops as The Pirate Queen and 9 to 5 the Musical.  She, along with Betsy Wolfe, have powerful voices that fill the Studio 54 Theatre.   Then there is Chita Rivera lending her half-century worth of stage experience to the production.  A theatrical treasure, indeed, but she doesn’t just walk through her role as Princess Puffer.  She can still dance and sell a song.  Bravo to her.

Director Scott Ellis emphasizes the playfulness of the musical, without sacrificing the mystery underling the production.  He skillfully handles the audience participation portion of the show which, in less adept hands, could cause this momentum building moment to derail the production.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a pleasurable, diverting, and entertaining bit of Broadway razz-ma-tazz.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review of Hartford Stage's "A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder"


Three cheers for Jefferson Mays the main reason, but certainly not the only excuse, to catch the world premiere musical, A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, now playing at the Hartford Stage.  The show is an entertaining delight made even more so by the tour de force performance of Mays.  He inhabits eight members of the D’Ysquith family who, unfortunately, are unceremoniously knocked off one by one throughout the show.

The plot of the musical is based on a 1907 book by Roy Horniman and was the source material for the 1949 British black comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets, where Alec Guinness famously played eight members of the D’Ascoyne family.  In A Gentlemen’s Guide the story unfolds as we are introduced to Monty Navarro, a handsomely charming young man awaiting a verdict in his sensational murder trial.  How did he end up in such a predicament?  We begin to find out why as the action adeptly switches to the beginning of Navarro’s tale. 

Slightly downtrodden and impoverished, he discovers his recently deceased mother was a disinherited member of the D’Ysquith family.  Joyful, yet reserved, he contacts his newfound relatives about his current familial status seeking acceptance, but finding nothing but rejection.  Learning, off-handedly, that he is now eighth in line to become the head of the family Navarro, quite innocently at first, begins to creatively find ways to bump off the relationships in front of him for succession.  Driving him onward is his need for retribution, greed, and the desire to impress the love of his life Sibella who, while loving the beguiling Navarro, desires someone more monied to settle down with. 

Enter Jeffrey Mays in the guise of all the soon-to-be fallen D’Ysquith members.   
He is variously pompous, arrogant, highfaluting, overbearing, and self-centered in his various portrayals.  All of them are very funny.  When he is onstage, A Gentlemen’s Guide shines and bubbles over with merriment.  This is the one slight problem I have with the show.  Mays is so masterful in his performances that in Act II, when almost all the D’Ysquith clan had by then met their untimely demise, the production focuses mostly on the loves of Navarro’s life, a slight letdown from the over-the-top shenanigans of Act I.  But this is a small complaint of the book by Robert L. Freedman and doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the musical.

In addition to Jeffrey Mays, Ken Barnett is wonderful as Monty Navarro.  At first soft-spoken and unassuming he slowly blossoms into a determined and devious gentleman of the world perfectly complementing Mays’ more over-the-top characterizations.  Lisa O’Hare, as Sibella Hallward, is sexy, alluring, and more than a bit of a tease as the love of Navarro’s life.  She, along with the two male leads, provide a rollicking good time throughout A Gentlemen’s Guide.

The score by Freedman and Steven Lutvak actually provide tuneful, witty songs, which seems such a rarity these days with new musicals.  Jeffrey Mays, while not the keenest vocalist as his co-stars, nonetheless, knows how to deliver a song with aplomb as he does with the comic numbers “I Don’t Understand the Poor” and “Better With a Man.”

Director Darko Tresnjak assuredly guides the musical through its paces.   He adds a number of creative flourishes throughout the production, primarily surrounding the deaths of the D’Ysquith family (which I won’t spoil).   As the Artistic Director of this award-winning regional theater I would hope he doesn’t wait 16 years until Hartford Stage produces another world premiere musical.

A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder, now playing at the Hartford Stage through November 11th.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review of Goodspeed Opera House's "Something's Afoot"


When the best comment you can make about a show is the set design you know you’re in trouble.  This is the case with the murder mystery musical comedy, Something’s Afoot, the last offering of the Goodspeed Opera House’s current season.  When the show was first announced it was, to quote the King of Siam, a puzzlement.  When you think of a Goodspeed production you point to the inspired direction, a classic score, and creative dance numbers.  Most shows also have a storied history.  Something’s Afoot has none of these.  In fact, when it reached Broadway in the mid-1970’s it was a huge flop.  Maybe the reason for producing the musical is nostalgia.  The show premiered at Goodspeed 40 years ago.

Creating a murder mystery musical comedy has always been fraught with difficulties, which is why so few have been produced in Broadway history.  You can count them on one hand—Redhead, starring Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley in 1959; and Curtains, starring David Hyde Pierce in 2007.  In addition to creating a cohesive book and score, there is the added responsibility of developing a satisfying mystery to keep the audience’s interest.  There is also the extra burden of stopping the action to insert a song or big dance number, which in this genre can be achingly difficult. 

Something’s Afoot is part Agatha Christie and part the board game Clue.   All the ingredients for a murderous time are present—a creepy mansion, washed out bridge, a Miss Marple know-it-all type, the stoic butler, young romantic lovers, a retired English Colonel, as well as other archetypal mystery characters.    Slowly, one-by-one, they each meet an untimely demise.  As the bodies pile up the audience is left to guess who.  While the deaths are inventively staged, the plot by James McDonald, David Vos, and Robert Gerlach is rather boring.  A few flourishes pique your interest every so often, but overall the story is flat.  Even the denouement is unfulfilling.  The score by the aforementioned group plus Ed Linderman is uninspired and has more the feel of a college production. 

Director/Choreographer Vince Pesce has the cast dashing on and off stage, posturing on the staircase, and maybe ramping up the actors’ performances a bit too much.  Audrie Neenan, as the amateur sleuth, seems revved up on caffeine becoming almost manical in her role.   The other cast members try their best with the material provided.

In all, Something’s Afoot is something to miss.  Wait until Good News roars in next season.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review of "Bring it On"


With high-flying flips and aerial maneuvers, Bring It On, the new musical inspired by the popular movie of the same name, is fitfully appealing.  At times stereotypical, at other points refreshing and engaging, the show has a hard time settling into one coherent identity.  The big draw of the production, which will appeal greatly to the pre-teen and teenage crowd, are the highly choreographed cheerleading routines.  For the most part, they provide the pizzazz to the musical though by the final curtain you may have had enough of the precision numbers.

The plot centers on two competing high school cheerleading squads.  Campbell, played with a determined enthusiasm by Taylor Louderman, is about to start her senior year as captain of the school’s cheerleading team.  But, with a mysterious twist of fate she and a friend Bridget, portrayed with a bubbly eagerness by Ryann Redmond, are suddenly redistricted across town to the inner city high school that has no squad.  Determined to fit in with the mostly African-American and Latino student population proves daunting at first until she befriends Danielle, who is the leader of the school’s hip-hop dance crew.  She is played with a gritty fortitude and toughness, edged with a layer of warmth and caring by Adrienne Warren.  Together, after much teenage angst and bonding, they form a cheerleading squad so Campbell can compete with her old high school team, now led by her scheming protégé, Eva, a plotting minx portrayed with evil relish by Elle McLemore.  There are new boyfriends, subplots, and more, but the focus is on the associations Campbell and Bridget have once they transfer to their new surroundings at Jackson High.   Their interactions with the new student population are characterized by more honest teenage depictions and feelings.  At their former school the students are more the boilerplate variety as exemplified by the self-centered blonde Skylar; and her frumpy follower, Kylar.

But the emphasis of Bring It On is the world of extreme cheerleading and that is when the show shines.  These daredevil routines bring the musical to life since they are mostly combined with the sizzling choreography of Director/Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.  His urban, street smart feel, epitomized in his Tony Award winning dance sequences for In the Heights, produce some of the best production numbers of the early Broadway season.  His direction of the musical, however, is more perfunctory. 

Bring It On could be described as high-powered fluff.  But, in addition to Andy Blankenbuehler, it has a notable creative team behind the scenes.  The score is by Tom Kitt (Tony Award for Best Score and Pulitzer Prize for Next to Normal), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tony Award for Best Score for In the Heights), and Amanda Green.  The book is by Jeff Whitty (Tony for Best Book of a musical for Avenue Q).  It is interesting the aforementioned group would be involved in such a light-weight concoction.  Jeff Whitty’s libretto fluctuates between the standard formula for teenage crisis and concern and the more realistic portrayal of the post-pubescent crowd.  The score, while not the caliber of the team’s previous work, is well-crafted and tuneful, providing some appealing songs to augment the action on stage. 

Bring it On—a spotty, yet exuberant musical more for the middle to high school crowd then those with more sophisticated taste.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review of "Chaplin"


Chaplin, the new musical that chronicles the life of The Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin, lacks buoyancy and zip.  Add to that a lackluster score and a pointless Act II and you end up with the first major disappointment of the new Broadway season, which is a shame because of the mostly winning performance by Rob McClure as Chaplin.

The musical starts off with an affecting look at Chaplin’s impoverished younger years in London, his early music hall days, family (brother Sydney and mentally ill mother) and, finally, his formative years in Hollywood.  The book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan provide an engaging and entertaining look at Chaplin’s growth in the movie industry.  Director/Choreographer Warren Carlyle moves the production along with a steady hand.  The problem holding back Act I from blossoming is the colorless and banal score by Christopher Curtis.  The action on stage is engaging enough, but there is no musical spark to energize the show, to elevate it from a conventional biography to a spirited Broadway production.

Heading into the second act the show simply implodes, for a variety of reasons.  First, the book by Curtis and Meehan turns from a mostly absorbing and satisfying examination of Chaplin’s movie-making and personal life to an unappealing and listless mess focusing solely on Chaplin’s left-leaning political sentiments as well as the witch hunt conducted by gossip queen Hedda Hopper to discredit the man.  That’s Act II.  Chaplin gives speeches supporting the Russian people.  Hopper, upset because The Little Tramp will not appear on her radio program, prowls the stage digging up dirt on him and trying to prove he is un-American.  Not exactly absorbing or enthralling musical theater.  Second, the score by Christopher Curtis continues to be humdrum and forgettable.  Third, the choices by Director/Choreographer Warren Caryle, agreeable and adroit in Act I, become tired and aimless later on.  The Act II opening, where Chaplin dukes it out in a boxing ring with his ex-wives, is rather strange.  A roller skating number, with only three skaters, is tame and boring.  All the freshness and wonder surrounding Chaplin’s early days has simply vanished.

Rob McClure, as Charlie Chaplin, is lively and energetic.  He also displays the pathos and intensity of a ground-breaking artist.  I hesitate to wonder what the show would be like without his talents.  The rest of the cast is fine.  Yet only Zachary Unger as the young Chaplin truly resonates with the audience.

Chaplin, one to miss.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review of Goodspeed Opera House's "Carousel"


Composer Richard Rodgers has stated that Carousel was the favorite score he wrote during his collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein.  Who could argue with his choice when you have should songs as “Mister Snow,” “If I Loved You,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “Soliloquy,” “When the Children are Asleep,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” interwoven within the show.  The musical selections are just one of the highlights of the Goodspeed Opera House’s marvelous production of Carousel, running now through the end of September.

Rodgers and Hammerstein were always looking to stretch the boundaries of musical theater.  Oklahoma! in 1943, their initial effort together, was a landmark event.  It was truly the first time the score, book, and dance were so well-integrated into a musical production.  The songs and choreography developed naturally through the storyline.  Their second effort, Carousel in 1945, continued their experimentation.  For example, the overture was displaced.  Instead, a pantomime prologue, performed to the beautifully haunting “Carousel Waltz,” starts the show. 

Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted Carousel from the play Lilliom.  The locale was moved from Budapest to the Maine coastline.  The plot centers around Billy, a charismatic, yet roguish carousel barker, who falls for the innocent, but strong-willed mill worker, Julie Jordan.  Soon married, their marriage, is about to dissolve when Billy learns Julie is pregnant.  Suddenly, he becomes a changed man looking forward to fatherhood.  Not knowing how to support his impending family, since he has been out-of-work the night he met Julie, Billy agrees to team-up with his scheming and treacherous friend, Jigger, to rob the mill’s owner.  The plan goes horribly wrong and Billy stabs himself rather then going to jail.  Now in heaven, waiting to be judged, he is given a chance to return to earth, for one day, to redeem himself.  He meets his daughter, now 15 years old and more of an outcast due to Billy’s legacy in town, in an encounter that does not go well.  As the musical ends Billy’s spectral presence stands by his child, seated at her high school graduation, as the commencement speaker states “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Hammerstein’s book successfully shifts the action to a quaint Maine town in the late 1800’s, which enables him to encapsulate a bygone era when life was simpler.  The end can be viewed as rather schmaltzy and preachy, but does leave you exiting the theater with a lump in your throat.   The score, as mentioned before, is outstanding.  Enough said.

All of the main actors are outstanding, leading off with Erin Davie as the vunerable, yet resolute Julie Jordan.  When she started with the first notes of “If I Loved You,” I got goosebumps.  Jenn Gambatese, as Julie’s best friend, Carrie, also has a golden voice and the perfect comic touch for her role.  James Snyder’s Billy Bigelow is rakish, stubborn and proud, with a full-throttled baritone.  Tally Sessions’ Jigger Craigin provides a menacing presence that hangs over the New England village.

The choreography by Parker Esse, while muted throughout the production, breaks out for the act two ballet sequence, an homage to adolescent passion and youthful abandon.

Rob Ruggiero’s direction, sure-handed as ever, effortlessly guides the musical through its multi-layered storylines.

Carousel, now at the Goodspeed Opera House though September 29th.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Theater Recommendations

Summer is just around the corner, which means an influx of tourists to the Big Apple and Broadway.  I am always asked for recommendations.  “What’s good?”  “I like musicals.”  “How about for the kids?”  There are many variables that can dictate my choices for individuals or families.  But, since I cannot personally advise everyone (even though you can email me at Broadway99@comcast.net with your parameters) I have put together two lists--one for musicals and the other for comedies/dramas.  I have given a one or two sentence description as well as an appropriate age minimum.  These are my conservative estimates.  There are not many shows for the very young.

As you will see from the non-musicals, the list is rather skimpy.  This is more a factor that I have not seen all the plays this year even though many—Clybourne Park, Other Desert Cities, The Lyons, and Venus in Fur—have all received critical acclaim.  If drama is your cup of tea you probably could not go wrong with either of these four.  The four I have seen are listed in priority order.

I have also listed the musicals in priority order.  I have left off the list such perennial blockbusters as The Book of Mormon, Lion King, and Wicked.  Finding tickets for these shows, at reasonable prices, is very hard.  It would be better to see one of the other musicals on the list.  If you "have" to see one of the aforementioned productions you may have to go on the secondary market.

There are a number of ways to purchase discount tickets for many shows.  The first place to review is the Broadway Rush, Lottery and Standing Room Only Policies on the Playbill.com website.  Believe it or not there are lottery tickets to most shows-at huge savings-even to The Book of Mormon.

Another great place is Broadway Shows Discount Codes on Broadwaybox.com.  You simply choose a show, print out the page with the specific code and can go directly to the box office to purchase tickets (you can also call, but will have to pay the service charge which could be over $10.00 per ticket).  No waiting in line at the TKTS Booth.  However, the lines at the newly refurbished TKTS Booth snake to the front very quickly.  You always seem to meet interesting people in the queue, which makes it go even faster.  For information about the Booth, go to - http://bit.ly/NLwrh9

One other useful piece of information is finding out your chances of getting into a show or having it listed on the availability board at the TKTS Booth.  Playbill.com posts the weekly grosses for each Broadway show, the week’s percent of capacity, andthe average ticket price.  So, for example, during the week of June 11th – 17th the musical Memphis was playing to 66% capacity and the average ticket price was only $69.00.  Translation – there is an excellent chance Memphis will have tickets at the TKTS Booth and they will have a great coupon on Broadwaybox.com.

So, here are my recommendations.  Shows I have reviewed are linked to the review:

MUSICALS
  Newsies – Since winning two high profile Tony Awards (Best Score and Choreography), Newsies has been selling out.  But you never know if there might be tickets at the TKTS Booth Tuesday-Thursday nights (slower nights).  This is a longshot, but if tickets are available, grab them.  Tuneful, incredible production numbers and charismatic cast.  Good for all ages 6 and up.

  The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – Riveting, powerful drama with Tony winner for Best Actress, Audra McDonald anchoring a superb cast.  Classic Gershwin score.  Good for ages 12 and up.

  Memphis – Tony winner for Best Musical a few years back.  Strong score, compelling storyline, and the golden voice of Montego Glover.  Good for ages 12 and up.

  Once – I will admit I have not seen Once, but since it was the big winner at this year’s Tony Awards I wanted to include it.  Probably good for ages 14 and up.

  Anything Goes – The 2011 Tony Award for Best Revival of a musical.  Fabulous Cole Porter score and some of the best dancing this side of Newsies.  Closing in early August.  Good for ages 12 and up.

  Nice Work If You Can Get It – A musical, loosely based on the Gershwin’s Oh Kay, this breezy comedy won both Best Supporting Actor and Actress Awards.  Outstanding score, the beautiful Kelli O’Hara and a slightly puffy Matthew Broderick.  Good for ages 12 and up.

  Mary Poppins – Disney magic lives on with a very good adaptation of the classic movie.  Small children will be enchanted.  Good for ages 6 and up.

  Jersey Boys – One of the most popular musicals of the last few years, the show has been creeping up on the TKTS Booth board as of late.  Even if you are not a huge Four Seasons fan you will find the story compelling.  The music ain’t bad either.  Good for ages 10 and up.

  Ghost the Musical – I will admit I did like Ghost.  It is not a great musical and I disliked the projections, but if you are looking for an entertaining show this could be it.  Good for ages 12 and up.


PLAYS
  One Man, Two Guvnors – One of the funniest shows you will ever see.  Tony Award winner James Corden is priceless.  Tom Edden (who should have won the Best Supporting Actor Award) is hysterical.  Good for ages 10 and up.

  War Horse – The 2011 Tony Award for Best Play, War Horse has been playing to about 72% capacity which means tickets should not be a problem.  Probably the best drama I’ve seen in the past ten years.  The life-size puppets are truly amazing.  The end will have you on your seat (and a hanky in your hand).  A must see.  Good for ages 10 and up (NOTE:  the war scenes can be a bit scary for small children).

  The Best Man – A superb all-star cast.  With the presidential nominating conventions just around the corner, what better show to see.  Good for ages 14 and up.

  Harvey – Classic, Pulitzer Prize winning revival of a man and his imaginary six foot rabbit.  Jim Parsons, from TV’s Big Bang Theory is perfectly cast.  Good for ages 12 and up.

 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

2012 Tony Award Musings

Just a reminder that I will be updating throughout the Tony Award telecast...

The opening number from THE BOOK OF MORMON to start off the show.  One of the best songs from the musical.  Why THE BOOK OF MORMON on tonight's program?  Purely to sell more tickets and tease people that cannot pay $477.00 for premium seats.  Oh, no Josh Gad.  Right.  He just left the show for TV stardom.

Neil Patrick Harris is hosting for the 3rd time.  Ties for second with Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, Rosie O'Donnell, and Hugh Jackman.

Opening number - not one of the best.  Only livened up with the guest stars popped in like Patti Lupone and Annie.  where's Hugh when you need him?

Do you think Judith Light didn't rehearse her speech?

NEWSIES - Should have done "King of New York" as their number.  "Seize the Day" is also excellent, but "King of New York" was much better.  Would have been nice if they also sang the song.  Haven't seen such acrobatics since WEST SIDE STORY.

I have loved Michael McGrath - Best Supporting Actor Tony Award - since I saw him on the Goodspeed stage many years ago.  He has always been so solid in his comedic roles.  When I first saw him performing all I could think of was a younger Nathan Lane.  I thought Dave Alan Grier should have won, but no regrets.

Great number from FOLLIES with Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein.  So glad they didn't sing the old warhorse, "I'm Still Here."  FOLLIES or PORGY & BESS for Best Revival?  Too close to call.

Who's the guy whining behind THE LION KING?

GHOST song too loud and uninteresting.  There were better options.  Not going to bring in the crowds .  HINT:  the guy bathed in blue is dead.

Two director awards at once...Yes, the inevitable run of ONCE to Best Musical begins as John Tiffany wins the Best Director of a Musical.  My choice, NEWSIES, will probably just settle for Best Choreography and Best Score.  Like with WICKED, beaten out by AVENUE Q, NEWSIES will have the last laugh at the box office over the years.

Trivia question - what person has won the most Tony Awards for directing a play?  Answer - Mike Nichols with five...now six!

Did they have leisure suits back in the days of Jesus?  Are those blue suede shoes?

SPIDERMAN bit was quite good.  Ted Chapin and Angela Lansbury were good sports.

Trivia question - who was Christian Borle once married to?  Answer - Sutton Foster!  He was good in PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (congratulations), but Tom Edden in ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, was absolutely hysterical.  Would have liked to see him win.

Love Kelli O'Hara.  She's excellent in NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT.  Matthew Broderick is one of my favorite actors, but he just seems to sleepwalk through his role in the show.  Not much energy.

Why a musical number from a cruise ship?  Is this the same cruise line that is advertising on the Tony Awards?

Boy, ONCE is cleaning up.  They've won almost all the creative awards so far.

Judy Kaye was fun in NICE WORK...I remember her in her Broadway debut.  She took over when Madeline Kahn suddenly left ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY back in 1979.

Dear Ms. Barkin--the reason for a buffo year at the Broadway box office is because of the huge amounts producers are charging for premium seats.  I'll be impressed if the attendance figures are way up.

I saw PETER AND THE STARCATCHER and was just not impressed.

I thought the year in plays montage was great and then stopping for a few minutes for the nominated shows.  They might have finally gotten it right.

Neil Patrick Harris' musical interlude was entertaining, but he lacks razz-ma-tazz.  Sheryl Crow writing the score for the upcoming DINER.  Could be interesting.  Best score to NEWSIES!  What a surprise.  :-)  Alan Menken's first Tony Award.  Can you believe it?  All the shows he's written.  He has a ton of Oscars.  Now maybe, one day, Stephen Schwartz will win one.  Of course, most of the good songs from NEWSIES were in the movie.  Just a few new ones for the musical.  Most not so great.  Still cannot believe that the scores for PETER AND THE STARCATCHER and ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS were nominated.  LYSISTRATA JONES had a tuneful, catchy score.  It most definitely should have been nominated.  Even SPIDERMAN and GHOST were not terrible and should have been given consideration over the two plays.  I can't even remember anything from PETER AND THE STARCATCHER.

Wow!  Audra McDonald has such a dynamite voice!  Good performances from Norm Lewis and David Alan Grier in a well-coordinated segment from PORGY AND BESS.

 "Gold" - one of the songs from ONCE I played on my radio show this evening, which was music from all Tony Award nominated shows.  I know ONCE will probably win Best Musical, but I am more of a NEWSIES type guy.

I was never a fan of EVITA, even the original with Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin.  Did this segment lack oomph?  It was more ho hum then holy moly.  Wouldn't you have Elena Roger sing a bit more?  She is EVITA?

Uninspiring GODSPELL.  Nuff said.

Love seeing Mandy and Patti on stage together.  I wondered if they cringed during the EVITA number?  Whoa!  Best revival to PORGY AND BESS.  Good for them.  It was a powerful show.  Are Norm and Audra next?  Wonder what Sondheim is thinking?

I think I'll keep my musical theater going to terra firma, thank you.

Very nice, Hugh Jackman's wife surprising him with his special Tony.  He is so smooth.

Toot!  Toot!  The ONCE steamroller keeps chugging along.  Nice heartfelt acceptance speech.

YEAH!  for James Corden.  The funniest show on Broadway.  Corden was very gracious.  He was in such incredible company.

Can we get the LEAP OF FAITH number over with so we can finish the broadcast?  It's not like it's still playing.  Is that too mean-spirited?  Still can't believe this was even nominated.

Audra McDonald wins her FIRST leading actress award in a musical.  Previously, she was two and two--Best Featured Actress in a play and in a musical.

So, winners and losers from the musicals?

WINNERS:
-Obviously, ONCE with 8 awards including Best Musical
-PORGY AND BESS with Best Revival and Best Actress
-NEWSIES with two major awards for Best Score and Choreography

LOSERS:
-NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT with only two Best Featured Player awards
-FOLLIES with one minor award out of eight nominations

Finally, I'll give Neil Patrick Harris a solid "B" for his hosting efforts.  Tough job anytime.  You just want to keep the show moving which he performed admirably.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tony Award News

On my radio show tomorrow I'll be playing music from Tony nominated shows including NEWSIES, BONNIE & CLYDE, ONCE, LYSISTRATA JONES, and PORGY AND BESS.  The program, "On Broadway," airs Sunday from 5:30-6:30pm EST on WRTC-FM, 89.3, in Hartford, CT.  It streams live via our website at http://www.wrtcfm.com so you can listen anywhere in the world.

I will also be blogging live during the Tony Award telecast to give you my take on the ceremony, the winners and losers.  I hope you will tune in.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review of Goodspeed Opera House's "Mame"


One day the Goodspeed Opera House will produce a musical starring Kirsten Wyatt instead of just employing her considerable comedic talents as a featured actress.  She was one of the bright spots from last year’s My One and Only and her performance as Agnes Gooch in the season opener, Jerry Herman’s Mame, is one of the show’s highlights.

Mame is one of the legendary characters in the musical theater canon.  Angela Lansbury starred in the 1966 Broadway original and her portrayal of the free-spirited, liberated Mame Dennis set the bar for other actresses to come.  The Goodspeed production, which plays through July 7th, features Louise Pitre, a Tony Award nominee for Mamma Mia, as the feisty, unorthodox jet-setter.  She looks fabulous in the numerous costumes designed by Gregg Barnes, but her performance lacks the necessary zip and liveliness.  In fact, the whole production is missing a certain bounce and effervescence.
"It's Today!"  Louise Pitre and the cast of Mame.

The book of the show is based on the popular novel, Auntie Mame, and the subsequent play of the same name by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.  Lawrence and Lee adapted their play into the musical Mame which tells the story of young Patrick Dennis and his nanny, Agnes Gooch, who travel to New York City to live with Patrick’s Auntie Mame now that his father has died.  Mame takes an immediate liking to the lad and introduces him to her bohemian ways and eccentric friends, which includes actress and lush, Vera Charles.  Their adventures from pre-Depression wealth through the Stock Market Crash and back to the monied life (thanks to the unfortunate death of Mame’s newly minted rich husband) are riddled with high-flying exploits and silly escapades. 

Patrick grows older and falls in love with a snobbish and pretentious girl, in reaction to both his unusual upbringing and need to have a more normal, regimented life.  Mame, of course, sets him straight in the nick of time and he ends up marrying a more sensible, down-to-earth woman.  As the curtain falls, Mame is conniving to take the young couple’s son on an adventure to India.

My main problem with the show was the aforementioned absence of pacing and vitality of the production.  Director Ray Roderick should have done more to kickstart the musical to overcome the languidness of some scenes and episodic nature of the show.  Choreographer Vince Pesce adds some nice flourishes but, unlike most Goodspeed musicals, the dance numbers seem a tad forced and not as integrated into the entire production.

Kirsten Wyatt's character Agnes Gooch learns to "Live Live LIVE!" from her tutors Vera Charles (Judy Blazer) and Mame Dennis (Louise Pitre).
In addition to Louise Pitre, as Mame, Judy Blazer plays best friend, Vera Charles.  Blazer, a seasoned Broadway veteran, who also looks spectacular in her outfits, seems to relish her role.  But as one who is almost always without a drink in hand when on stage she is a bit too controlled.  Instead of the life of the party, she is just a guest.  Charles Hagerty, as the older Patrick, has boyish good looks and a fine voice.  Eli Baker, as young Patrick, can act, sing, and keep in line with the rest of the more mature cast.  A slightly disconcerting aspect of the show is the cast’s lack of aging.  The timeframe of Mame is between 1928 thru 1946, but most of the central characters, besides the older Patrick, do not seem to get older at all.  It was a curious dynamic.

The strength of Mame is the outstanding Jerry Herman score, probably his best.  There are so many marvelous numbers including “It’s Today,” “Open a New Window,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Mame,” and “Bosom Buddies.”  I could quibble with the pacing of “Bosom Buddies,” one of the all-time duets in Broadway history, but that’s more because I play the song often on my radio show and how can you compare any version to the two originals--Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur?

Mame, a respectable staging at the Goodspeed Opera House thru July 7th.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review of "Nice Work If You Can Get It"

Gershwin music.  Matthew Broderick.  Kelli O’Hara.  Great supporting cast.  Zany book.  Buoyant choreography.  Mix and stir (with bootlegged booze, of course) and you come up with the comical effervescence, Nice Work If You Can Get It.

The musical, loosely based on the Gershwin’s Oh, Kay!, follows the boozy escapades of rich boy Jimmy Winter, a seemingly perpetually soused Matthew Broderick, from his last night of freedom—he’s getting married in the morning—to his chance meeting with bootlegger Billie Bendix, a rough and tumble Kelli O’Hara.  Of course they fall in love, then quickly part, only to reunite, purely by accident, at Winter’s Long Island estate which Billie and her gang think is unoccupied.  Where better to hide out and stow their bootlegged wares.  Unfortunately, Winter and his entourage show up to ignite a host of mistaken identities, hanky-panky, and subterfuge.  There is, for those worried sorts, a multitude of happy endings.

Nice Work If You Can Get It is the second Gershwin hodgepodge to make it to Broadway.  The first, the charming 1983 musical, My One and Only, also had two charismatic stars in Tommy Tune and Twiggy, plenty of raz-ma-tazz production numbers, and the songs of the Gershwin brothers. 

In Nice Work If You Can Get It we have the resplendent Kelli O’Hara, at her playful best.  Her gorgeous voice is beautifully tailored to such classics as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not For Me.”  Matthew Broderick, absent from the musical stage since The Producers, has found the perfect vehicle for his talents.  Mischievous and puckish, he also brings a devilish attitude and temperament to his role.  My only issue with his performance was it seemed more one-dimensional.  He reminded me of Dudley Moore’s portrayal in Arthur, a perpetually inebriated playboy.  It didn’t hurt his characterization, but a more lively effort would have enhanced the role.

The supporting cast is equally impressive.  Tony Award nominated Michael McGrath, as Billie Bendix’s partner in crime, Cookie McGee, is a seasoned comic sidekick that has graced Broadway productions for many years.   He, along with fellow Tony Award nominee, Judy Kay, as the Duchess Estonia Dulworth, enliven the production and provide some of the most fun and laughs on stage. 

The Gershwin songs in the show highlight a small sampling of the brother’s incredible output.  In addition to the aforementioned titles the audience is bedazzled with “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Lady Be Good,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” and many more. 

Joe DiPietro’s book has the requisite silliness and daftness of all those musicals of the 1920’s through 1940’s where plot was secondary to pretty girls cavorting on stage (which Nice Work has a lot of) and a lively tune or ballad.

Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall has the light touch necessary for the airy feel of the show.  Her aim is simple—provide a fun and entertaining diversion.  The choreography, while not the full throttle brashness of her work in last year’s Anything Goes, is still deliciously enjoyable especially the moments that Matthew Broderick bounds across the stage.

Nice Work If You Can Get It—a cool, carefree spring tonic for theater-goers looking for a little fizzle in their theater-going experience.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review of "Ghost"


I have to admit that I was very pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the new musical, Ghost, with its power pop score and sometimes brilliant stagecraft and effects.  It’s not like I was going in with negative thoughts, but the recent track record of movies transformed into musicals, most recently Sister Act and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, have not been very satisfying.  Still, for all the positives, there were two aspects of the production, which were quite irritating and exasperating.  More on this later.

As most people know, Ghost is based on the 1990 film that starred Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg, for which she won the Oscar.  [Spoiler Alert:  if you have not seen the movie be forewarned if you read ahead].  The plot of the show closely follows the movie.  Sam, played by Richard Fleeshman, and Molly, portrayed by Caissie Levy, are young and madly in love.  One night, on their way home from a romantic dinner a robbery turns sour and Sam is shot dead.  Grief-stricken, Molly is consoled by the couple’s mutual friend, Carl, played by Bryce Pinkham who, unbeknownst to her, was behind the murder for sinister reasons.  Sam has become a ghost, bound to the world of the living until there is a resolution to his killing.  Enter one Oda Mae Brown, played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, a storefront psychic that Sam finds he can communicate through to not only warn Molly, but also thwart the devious plans of his former friend and colleague.

Ghost works because the audience becomes involved in the story by Bruce Joel Rubin, who adapted his Academy Award winning screenplay for the musical.  Choppy and hurried as it may be live, the plot is bewitching, and the sentiment and characters are engrossing.  Caissie Levy, as Molly, provides emotional depth to her character, who is understandably devastated from her lover’s death.  Levy possesses both a powerful singing voice, as demonstrated in “Rain/Hold On,” as well a plaintive sorrowfulness in “Nothing Stops Another Day.”

Richard Fleeshman, well-apportioned and handsome, as Sam, has a fine voice, but lacks a dynamic presence.  True, he is a ghost for most of the show, but too often Director Matthew Warchus has him sitting, observing, fading into the background.  Even those moments where he is the focus, such as the marvelous scene in the subway system, Fleeshman lacks the charisma and power to command the action.  Bryce Pinkham, is a scheming sleaze as his treacherous undertaking begins to unravel.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph is fabulous as Oda Mae Brown, the psychic who discovers her fabricated powers to communicate with the dead are, in fact, real.  She is the spark plug that kick starts the musical every time she appears.

Rockers Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, along with lyrical contributions from Bruce Joel Rubin, provide a highly satisfying score of up tempo anthems and heartrending ballads.

Many of the special effects of the show provided the requisite ghostly atmosphere to the production.  When Sam, now dead, first tries to open a door and his hand passes through unimpeded there was an audible murmur of awe throughout the audience.  Likewise, the initial subway scene when he encounters the subway ghost was quite spectacular.  Sam’s walk to the heavens at the conclusion of the show was also impressive.

So, what’s my beef with Ghost?  First, and foremost, is the continuous and over-reliance on video projections.  Director Matthew Warchus has been quoted as seeking to have music video-like production values.  But when minimalism and intimacy should be the guide, the audience is whacked over the head with pulsating lights and frivolous videos.  Right at the start, when Molly and Sam are in the midst of a passionate embrace, the stage becomes alive with giant size projections of the two caressing and sharing intimate moments.  Why?  Doesn’t the creative team trust the material enough to have the two actors alone on stage without these wispy visions swirling on the semi-invisible projection screen?  Throughout the show the almost non-stop projections distract from the action and pretty much blot out the ensemble.  It wasn’t until the curtain call that I could see their faces (and I was in the eighth row of the orchestra).

The second problem is the character Oda Mae Brown.  Let me restate that.  The problem is not enough Oda Mae Brown.  Ms. Randolph brought the stage alive with her physicality, power, and especially her in-your-face attitude.  Even though she is a supporting character the musical would have been greatly enhanced by squeezing in more of her antics and less music video dance routines.  Throwing in a big, splashy—and pointless—production number for her, “I’m Outta Here,” just before the climax of the show served little purpose other than to showcase her exceptional talents.

Director Matthew Warchus skillfully guides the action through the numerous set pieces.  The pacing of the show is one of its strengths.  His work with the actors, Richard Fleeshman not withstanding, in the more intimate and less busy settings produces a sense of foreboding, intimacy, playfulness.  I just wished he hadn’t insisted on those maddening projections.

Ghost, somewhat imperfect, but still, an entertaining time on Broadway.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review of "On Man, Two Guvnors'"


I cannot remember the last time I have laughed so hard during a Broadway show as I did during One Man, Two Guvnors’.  I was crying.  My stomach hurt.  I thought I was going to die.  The award winning London import, based on The Servant of two Masters, circa 1746, combines almost every style of comedy and schtick you can think of – from slapstick to deadpan to farce to improv.  Throw in some audience participation and a dash of vaudeville and you get the most uproarious production in New York.

The main reason for such sustained hilarity is actor James Corden who plays the somewhat dimwitted, perpetually starved manservant, Francis Henshall, who suddenly finds himself in the employment of two Guvnors’ or bosses.  He is the ringleader and instigator.  When he is on stage you don’t know what is going to happen, except that nonstop laughter will be in the air.

The comedy even starts off with a curveball as the audience is treated to a number of songs by The Craze, a 1960’s skiffle band resplendent in their purple suits.  Acting almost as a Greek Chorus, they provide background and commentary on what we are about to experience through their rocking, tuneful selections.  They take the stage on and off throughout the show—many times accompanied by cast members on such instruments as the xylophone, ukulele and bicycle horns--providing their feel good music.

Trying to describe the plot of One Man, Two Guvnors’ would be an injustice to future audience members.  Let it suffice that the action takes place in the seedy, beachfront town of Brighton, in the year 1963.  Henshall, in the employment of two petty criminals, needs to keep them from meeting while trying to perform some very simple errands for both.  Throw in mistaken identity and unrequited love and you have the ingredients for ceaseless merriment.

Playwright Richard Bean’s reinterpretation of Carlo Goldoni’s Commedia dell’Arte classic is smartly written as well as devastatingly funny with enough tricks and set-ups to keep the audience gasping for air.  The side-splitting delirium is confined, for the most part, to Act I with the latter half of the show, while still full of laughs, is not as unrelenting in its mad-capped lunacy.  Director Nicholas Hytner shows great fortitude and restraint in keeping the production’s hijinks from spinning out-of-control.  He allows the actors great leeway in their quest to deliver unto us unremitting convulsions.

The actors.  As earlier stated, James Corden is a bundle of unteethered energy.  Whether it’s his interactions with his fellow thespians or exchanges with audience members his tour-de-force performance is deliriously intoxicating and will be remembered for years to come.  His co-stars are no slouches themselves.  Two of the most notable are Oliver Chris as Guvnor number two, Stanley Stubbers.  Chris, almost as boneheaded as his manservant, Henshall, looks and acts as someone right out of a Monty Python sketch.  His nonsensical utterings and absurdist actions are priceless.  Just the entrance of Tom Edden, as the rubbery, elderly waiter Alfie, produces a howl of laughter throughout the Music Box Theater.  His physical comedy and timing are impeccable.

One Man, Two Guvnors’ – indescribably delicious.