Saturday, June 23, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Procuring Cheap Tickets for Broadway

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


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

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

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

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

School Discount Coupons -- see below

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2007

2007 Tony Award Telecast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?