Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review of "A Chorus Line"


When A Chorus Line opened 40 years ago it changed the musical theater landscape.  Never had dancers, the gypsies of Broadway productions, been given such a prominent role front and center.  The show became a cultural phenomenon, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama as well as nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical and was, at one point, the longest running musical in Broadway history.  Sound familiar?  Hint:  a current show about an American President.

Playhouse-on-Park’s current production of A Chorus Line, which plays through July 31st, is a superb, energetic mounting of the show.  The two hour, intermission-less musical is powerful and emotional, the dancing dynamic, and the score lively and tuneful.

The storyline is simple.  A large group of dancers are in a small, cramped studio auditioning for a few cherished spots in the chorus of a new Broadway musical.  The dance captain, Larry, and director/choreography Zach put the men and women through a number of routines as they begin the arduous winnowing process.  Eventually, 17 individuals are chosen before one final cut.  Zach, forceful, demanding, yet understanding of the personal and physical rigors involved with trying out for a show then asks each of the remaining candidates to talk about themselves, which they do through words, song, and dance.  Slowly, we learn their back stories and begin to care and silently root for favorites.  Finally, after much work, sweat, and heartbreak eight members of the original grouping are chosen.  Their dreams fulfilled.

The book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante strips the show of the artifice and razz-ma-tazz of a large-scale Broadway musical and, instead, focuses on the private stories of the actors and actresses to drive the plot.   Their tales come across as genuine, humorous, and heartbreaking.  The performer’s hopes and desires are so real and rich in detail because the librettists, along with original director/choreographer Michael Bennett, based the character’s lives on the real stories of chorus line dancers.  

The score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, while rooted in the 1970’s, doesn’t sound dated.  It can be playful (“I Can Do That”), high impact (“I Hope I Get It”), and poignant (“Nothing”).  Every song is a gem.  Hamlisch also shows his composing prowess by providing the driving, high-powered music for the extended “The Music and the Mirror” dance number.


The acting troupe comes across as a true ensemble effort.  Yes, certain actors stand out and are given more of a star turn (Michelle Pruiett as Cassie and Bobbi Barricella as Diana), but not one performer dominates the show.  It would be unfair to single out just a few because everyone has done such an admirable job subsuming themselves within their character.

Directors Sean Harris and Darlene Zoller are in perfect sync with the actors and actresses.  They effectively use the small Playhouse space to show the intimate and claustrophobic nature of the rehearsal studio.  They successfully balance the pathos of the impassioned personal narratives with the funny and tender moments of the production.  Acting sequences seamlessly segue into individual and group dance numbers, which heightens and expands upon the actor’s disclosures.

Zoller, doubling as choreographer, incorporates a number of dance styles into the production including ballet, jazz, and tap.  She uses the individual and large dance routines as a way for character self-expression and to communicate their freedom of body and soul.  By the musical’s conclusion the disparate parts of the ensemble meld into a well-oiled unit, culminating into the thrilling finale.

The eight piece pit band, under the musical direction of Emmett Drake and Michael Morris, does an outstanding job as they play almost non-stop throughout the production.

A Chorus Line, an entertaining classic not to be missed, at Playhouse-on-Park through July 31st.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What to See on Broadway in 2016

Here are my recommendations for people coming to New York to see a Broadway show. Below are my most up-to-date choices as of June 2016.  They are all musicals. I have not included the perpetually sold-out shows, but there are many excellent productions to see besides Hamilton. 

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

Here are the guidelines/questions that need to be considered:
·      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 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 Chicago, Jersey Boys, and Phantom of the Opera.
·      This is all an inexact science with numerous variables to consider. For example, a Tween girl will probably love Wicked, but a boy…?
·      Is one seeking a musical comedy or a 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?

I have not included such shows as The Book of Mormon, The Lion King, Aladdin, Wicked or Hamilton 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 with short notice.  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 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 and Hamilton.  A number of shows now have a digital lottery, which begins the day before the performance and is much easy to enter then the traditional lottery system.

Another great place is Broadwaybox.com for Broadway Shows Discount Codes.  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.  

Foul language is very subjective.  When the musical Billy Elliot was on Broadway I had a parent email me concerned about the language. Yes, there were numerous swear words by the young actors, but nothing unheard of in middle and high schools across the country. And Billy Elliot was such a great show—the music, the dancing—I would not overlook the production because some of the young kids were cursing. The Book of Mormon is in a “language” category all by itself. If you or your children enjoy the television show “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 show title. So, without further ado…drum roll please…


TIKES (6-9 years old) - I think the best age for a child’s first show is 7 or 8, but 6 year olds could attend a musical.  It is important for parents to know their child.  Will they be quiet?  Not kicking the seat in front of them?  Be able to sit and watch?  If not, wait a year or two before subjecting yourself and other patrons to your child’s fussiness.


There use to be many Broadway shows for this age group, but the recommendations, in priority order, are now down to:

1.     Finding Neverland - The tale of how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan.  Closing August 21st.  A solid show for the younger set.
2.     School of Rock - Pure fun that is faithful to the Jack Black movie.  Tuneful score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater.  A subversive treat for kids.
3.     Matilda - Darker then the movie, but the musical captures the essence of the Roald Dahl book.  Younger theater-goers will be able to identify with Matilda and the other kids.  Closing January 1, 2017.
4.     Cats –Coming back to Broadway in July.  The dancing, songs, and costumes are perfect for kids that might have trouble following a plot since there isn’t much of one.

IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING – Aladdin and 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?  The recommendations, in priority order:

1.     School of Rock – see under TIKES
2.     Fiddler on the Roof - The old warhorse is back in a beautiful production.  A must for anyone that has never seen the musical.
3.     Matilda – see under TIKES
4.     Finding Neverland – see under TIKES
5.     Cats – see under TIKES

IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING – Wicked, Aladdin, and The Lion King.


TEENS (14-17 years old).  The recommendations, in priority order:

1.     School of Rock – see under TIKES
2.     Fiddler on the Roof – see under TWEENS
3.     Bright Star –No stars, but a wonderful score by Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin & Edie Brickell), great star turn by Carmen Cusack, and a heartwarming story.  Besides Hamilton my favorite new musical of the year. - CLOSING JUNE 26TH
4.     Something Rotten - Silly, but fun, fun, fun.  Tuneful score for this Shakespearean farce.  Did I say a lot of fun?
5.     The Color Purple - The best revival of 2016 with an incredible performance by Cynthia Erivo.  One of the top three shows not to miss when in NYC.
6.     Les Miserables - One of the classic, big English musicals that invaded our shores in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  An outstanding score and heartfelt story based on the Victor Hugo tome.

IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, Wicked, and The Lion King.


YOUNG ADULTS (18+ years old).  The recommendations, in priority order:

1.     Something Rotten – see under TEENS
2.     Bright Star – see under TEENS - CLOSING JUNE 26TH
3.     The Color Purple – see under TEENS
4.     An American in Paris - The dancing is incredible, great Gershwin score, Tony Award winning set design, a bigger then life story.  One of the best musicals I have seen in years.
5.     Kinky Boots - 2013 Best Musical.  A fun, rollicking good time with a great score by Cyndi Lauper.  A drag queen forms an alliance with a young man to save his shoe business.  It really is a family-oriented show.
6.     Fun Home - A 2015 multi-Tony Award winning show including Best Musical.  Adult themes, but so well done.
7.   Waitress - One of the better new musicals to open this season.  Based on the Indie movie about three waitresses at a diner.  Contemporary score by Sarah Bareilles. Star turn by Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller (for Beautiful).

IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, Wicked, or The Lion King.


ADULTS.  The recommendations, in priority order:

1.     An American in Paris – See under YOUNG ADULTS
2.     Bright Star – see under TEENS - CLOSING JUNE 26TH
3.     The Color Purple – see under TEENS
4.     Beautiful-A must for Carole King fans and fans of 60’s music.  A jukebox musical with a solid book.
5.     She Loves Me - A sumptuous musical comedy revival with a classic score, superb acting, and a gorgeous set.
6.     Fun Home – see under YOUNG ADULTS
7.   Waitress -see under YOUNG ADULTS
8.     Shuffle Along - So many stars—Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter and tap routines choreographed by Savion Glover—in this story of the first musical produced and acted by African-Americans.
9.      Something Rotten – see under TEENS

IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon or Wicked.

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

CT Critics Circle Awards Ceremony

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Two world premieres -- Hartford Stage's Broadway-bound "Anastasia" and Yale Repertory Theatre's "Indecent," which is currently playing in New York -- received top honors as outstanding musical and play at the 26th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards show June 13th at Hartford Stage, which co-hosted the event with TheaterWorks.

Tina Fabrique, who starred in the musical "Ella" in productions in theaters across the country, was master of ceremonies and performed at the show, which honors outstanding achievements in the state's 2015-16 professional theater season.

A selection of photos from the event are at the StuOnBroadway Facebook page.

Other award recipients are:

Outstanding director of a play: Rebecca Taichman for "Indecent."

Outstanding director of a musical: Darko Tresnjak for "Anastasia."

Outstanding actor in a play: Rajesh Bose for "Disgraced" at Long Wharf Theatre.

Outstanding actor in a musical: Bobby Steggert for "My Paris" at Long Wharf Theatre.

Outstanding actress in a play: Erika Rolfsrud for "Good People" at Hartford's TheaterWorks.

Outstanding actress in a musical: Christy Altomare for "Anastasia."

Outstanding choreography: Peggy Hickey for "Anastasia"

Outstanding ensemble: "Indecent"

Outstanding featured actor in a play: Charles Janasz for "Romeo and Juliet" at Hartford Stage.

Outstanding featured actress in a play: Birgit Huppuch for "The Moors"  at Yale Repertory Theatre.

Outstanding featured actor in a musical: Teren Carter for "Memphis" at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Outstanding featured actress in a musical: Mara Davi for "My Paris."

Outstanding debut: Mohit Gautman for “Disgraced” at Long Wharf Theatre

Outsanding set design: Alexander Dodge for "Rear Window" at Hartford Stage.

Oustanding costume design: (a tie) for Linda Cho for "Anastasia" and Paul Tazewell for “My Paris” at Long Wharf Theatre

Outstanding lighting design:  Donald Holder for "Anastasia"

Outstanding sound design: Darron L. West for "Body of an American" for Hartford Stage.

Outstanding projection design: Aaron Rhyne for "Anastasia" at Hartford Stage

Anne Keefe, stage manager of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre and Broadway for more than 25 years and part of the leadership team that saved and transformed Westport Country Playhouse, received the Connecticut Critics Circle's Tom Killen Award for lifetimes achievement in the theater. Longtime colleague Alkison Harris presented the award and read congratulations from former Long Wharf Theatre artistic director Arvin Brown and actor John Lithgow.

Special awards were presented to Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, co-composers and co-music directors who created the Klezmer music for Yale Rep's world premiere of "Indecent."

Among the award presenters were Gov. Dannel F. Malloy and Cathy Malloy, CEO of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, O'Neill Theater Center founder George White, animal trainer Bill Berloni and Tony Award nominee Tony Sheldon.

Also performing was David Pittsinger, nominated for "South Pacific" at Ivoryton Playhouse.

The Connecticut Critics Circle is comprised of theater critics and writers in the state's print, radio and on-line media. Information: www.ctcritics.org.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Musings on the 2016 Tony Awards

Tony, Tony, Tony...coming up.  Will Hamilton tie or break the 12 Tony wins The Producer won?  I don't think so.  Will Hamilton overshadow the telecast?  I hope not.  There are many very good productions--new musicals and revivals--from this past season that should have excellent production numbers during the show.  The suspense may be missing this year, but it should still be good entertainment.  Join me as I blog throughout the night.

Good opening speech by James Corden to put life's events into perspective.

Funny opening spoofing Hamilton.

The expanded opening was a bit hokey.  You have to admit Corden is a very talented performer.

Very deserving award for Best Featured Actress in a Play (The Humans) for Jayne Houdyshell.  Her acting in the show, as well as her fellow performers, was so effortless and seamless.  This is a true ensemble performance.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is in the house introducing the "Your in the Band" number from the loads of fun School of Rock.  The star Alex Brightman is a whirling dervish.

A different idea with the performance outside.  Could have chosen a better song then "Tomorrow," but Andrew Lloyd Webber did play a mean tambourine.

Renee--did you really think you weren't going to win for Hamilton?

Shuffle Along--won't be seeing that until next month.  The only new musical I haven't seen yet.  It will be interesting to see if Savion Glover wins for Best Choreography over Hamilton.  Review will be forthcoming...eventually.

If there is a sure thing in the world Davee Diggs from Hamilton wins. Oh, I was right.  He was mesmerizing.  Too bad the other Hamilton actors couldn't all win together.  Nice touching story.  I wish Patina Miller would come back to Broadway, but I do love the TV show "Madame Secretary."

Best score.  Hmmm.  Any guesses? So well-deserving for Lin-Manuel Miranda.

She Loves me--such a great show with a classic score and superb cast.  Definitely a show to see.  Liked the production number in that it highlighted some of the better songs and performers.

What do you think of the little interludes outside the Beacon Theater?  It's quaint, diverting, and gets to involve the public, but does it work?

Thomas Kail is VERY deserving for Hamilton.  He takes all the various components and shapes it into the musical we see on stage.  There would be no Hamilton without Thomas Kail.

So far I think the Fiddler number has been the best production number.  Energetic dancing, great music and an honestly happy Danny Burstein in the middle of it all.  Great job.

James Corden is doing such a fabulous turn as emcee.  He's funny, but is not obtrusive.

Excellent choice from Bright Star.  Showcases the star, Carmen Cusack, a very good song by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and fills the stage with the rest of the cast.

Smart move to showcase Cynthia Erivo for The Color Purple number.  This is a performance that does not come around very often and is the reason to see this revival.

Enthusiastic production number from On Your Feet!  I have to admit I wasn't overwhelmed by the show, but if you're a Gloria Estefan fan you will enjoy the show.

Loved the Les Miserable portion of the carpool karaoke. 

What a heartfelt and dignified speech by Best Actor winner Frank Langella.

Glad the cast for Spring Awakening reunited to perform a medley from the show to show the country what is possible in theater.

An interesting selection from Hamilton.  I thought they would go with the show's opener, "Alexander Hamilton."  That would have showcased the musical in a nutshell and been a more accessible number.

I would have stressed the more upbeat numbers from Waitress as when they started off with "Opening Up."  Is having Jessie Mueller singing a soulful ballad going to bring the tourists in droves this summer?  I thought they could have done a better job in selling themselves.

Congratulations to Leslie Odom, Jr. for Best Actor in Hamilton.  He was the best among many, many deserving honorees for this category.

What do we have left?  Best Actress in a Musical.  Best Musical.  A performance by Barbara.  Am I missing something.  It's getting late folks.

Why do the British always give such great acceptance speeches?  Great outfit.  Great performance.  A most deserving Tony Award for Best Actress to Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple.

Wrapping up the Tony telecast it seemed rather mundane.  Maybe it was because of the Hamilton factor so there was not much suspense.  Some outstanding musical selections from the nominated musicals, but the show was almost pedestrian.  Oh, yes, congratulations to Hamilton for Best Musical.  My count is 11 Tonys, one short of the record held by The Producers.

Kudos to James Corden for doing an outstanding job as host.

Good Night.



Friday, June 10, 2016

LIVE!! Tony Award Ceremony Musings


I haven't done this for the past two years, but on Sunday night I'll be blogging LIVE!! during the Tony Award telecast.  Do you want to know my thoughts on who won?  Who was deserving?  Who I thought were upset winners?  I can guarantee one thing--I will not be commenting about people's outfits.

We all know "Hamilton" will be the huge winner, but there were a lot of other fine musicals--both new and revivals--that opened this past season and should provide excellent entertainment in the live production numbers.  You can comment on my blog during my blogging or...

you can comment on my new Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/StuOnBroadway/ I'll be updating that as the night progresses.

Also, beginning on Sunday, July 10th I will be streaming my radio broadcast live through Facebook.  Not only can you see how a radio show is put together, but between songs I'll be able to interact with the tuning in audience.  You can also make requests and comment about the live stream.  It should be fun!  

I may even do a sneak live streaming preview this Sunday for my Tony show, which will have music from such nominated musicals as:  "Hamilton," "School of Rock," "Bright Star," "Waitress" (hopefully), "The Color Purple," "Fiddler on the Roof," and "She Loves Me."  A lot of great music beginning at 5:30PM EST on WRTCFM.com.

Review of "Turn Me Loose"


The early career of comedian and social activist Dick Gregory is searingly portrayed in the new play, Turn Me Loose, by actor Joe Morton.  Better known for his roles in blockbuster movies and television programs, he perfectly embodies the performer, creating a riveting, funny and heartfelt performance.

Playwright Gretchen Law traces Gregory’s rise through nightclubs and onto the national spotlight, where his blistering comedy routines centering on racism, inequality and life as a Black man resonated with audiences of all colors.  The performer was also deeply involved in the civil rights struggles as a fervid supporter, fundraiser and confidante to movement leaders.  The dynamics and tension between being a successful entertainer and committed social activist are vividly displayed in the production.  Law sets the play, primarily in the 1960’s, but jumps back and forth in time to show pivotal moments in Gregory’s life.

Morton, a theater veteran before the lure of Hollywood limited his New York stage appearances, gives a tour de force performance as the legendary entertainer.  He infuses Gregory with a burning desire to succeed as a Black comic with a conscious.  He is adept at telling a joke or relating a humorous story.  Morton also exhibits the pain and emotional toll of the performer as well as his compassion and commitment to his art and activism.  Actor John Carlin materializes throughout the production in a number of different roles, giving Morton someone to play off of amid the good times and bad during his long and distinguished career.

Director John Gould Rubin has the luxury of staging the show in a small performance space, which furnishes audience members the up close feel of a nightclub.  He keeps Morton, for the most part, at the edge of the stage, establishing an intimate and personal setting.  Rubin also skillfully and effortlessly moves the play from comic performances to scenes of dramatic tirades to heartbreaking angst.

Turn Me Loose, a powerful, thought-provoking production with a star turn by Joe Morton.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review of "Paramour"


Paramour, Cirque du Soleil’s first Broadway production, is big, bold, and busy.  The results are decidedly mixed.  As a book musical, the show is overly contrived and less then riveting.  As a crowd-pleasing spectacle, Paramour delivers with stunning acrobatics and feats of strength and agility that, at times, overrun the spacious Lyric Theatre stage.

The story revolves around a love triangle between a larger then life Hollywood director, AJ Golden (Jeremy Kushnier); the beautiful nightclub singer, Indigo James (Ruby Lewis), he earmarks for stardom; and her piano playing, songwriting partner, Joey Green (Ryan Vona), who deep down loves her.  The plot follows the threesome as they create movie magic—AJ as the love struck, demanding filmmaker, Indigo as the bewitching star, and Joey as the yearning composer.  At the end of the shoot AJ decides to marry his gorgeous starlet, which prompts Joey into action as he whisks his true love away.  Spurning stardom she follows him into the sunset.  Melded into the storyline are the signature athletic and acrobatic elements of a standard Cirque du Soleil show, which augments the hustle and bustle on stage.

The main problem with the musical is the book of the show feels too fabricated and clich├ęd.  Jeremy Kushnier as AJ Green is too much of a loud-mouthed caricature.  Ryan Vona is a sympathetic character, but too melancholy and pouting.  Ruby Lewis, on the other hand, makes a sparkling Broadway debut.  It would be worth seeing her in a vehicle where she could show more of her acting and singing abilities.  A number of Cirque du Soleil performers are worth noting starting off with Andrew and Kevin Atherton.  Their muscular, high-flying aerial act was quite impressive.  Tom Ammirati, Samuel William Charlton, Myriam Deraiche, and Martin Charrat were also thrilling to watch.  Nate Cooper, channeling Charlie Chaplin’s playfulness, added a winning comic touch to the production.  The ensemble’s circus-like acrobatics during the Act I closing scene, “Calamity Jane,” and the Act II “New York Rooftops” trampoline number amply demonstrates why Cirque du Soleil has achieved such a worldwide following. 

The score by Bob and Bill, Guy and Marc Lessard, and Andreas Carlsson is more derivative and referential.  Within the confines of the show the songs are attractive and satisfying, but have no staying power outside the production.

Director Philippe Decoufle is at his best when the stage is crowded with plenty of action taking place, even though it can be hard for audience members to keep track of all the goings-on.  He is less successful in generating a dramatic edge and sustained interest when working with his principle actors.

Paramour, more for fans of Cirque du Soleil thrills then for Broadway musical enthusiasts.