Sunday, August 15, 2010

Top Ten for 2010-2011 Season

The new Broadway season begins in a few short weeks. Unlike last year’s overall lackluster offerings, this year there are a number of productions I am highly anticipating. Of course, there is never a guarantee of an announced show, even the most high profile production, of opening (Can you say Spider-man, Turn Off the Dark?).

Below is my Top Ten list. Mostly musicals, the list includes shows with powerhouse casts, a taste of Star Trek, Harry Potter singing, a couple of superheroes, and a bit of Pee-Wee for good measure. Here, now in alphabetical order, the Broadway productions I most want to see.

I am not a huge David Mamet fan, but his A Life in the Theatre is uncharacteristic Mamet meaning the characters are not cursing ever other word. More importantly, I am a huge Star Trek fan so the Broadway premiere of Mamet’s drama, which stars Jean-Luc Picard, I mean Patrick Stewart, and T.R. Knight from Grey’s Anatomy, is something to rejoice. Seriously, Stewart’s appearance on the Broadway stage is few and far between so his return is most welcome. Beam me up for this one.
First Preview: scheduled for September 23, 2010
Scheduled opening: October 12, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 2, 2011 closing.

One of my top ten (maybe five) musicals of all-time is the 1987 revival of Anything Goes with Patti Lupone and Howard McGillin. The casting was perfect, the Cole Porter tunes, the staging, everything was just so right. I remember getting goose bumps during the overture. So, why would I include an upcoming revival of a musical that I hold so near and dear? Two words: Sutton Foster. If there is an actress tailor made for the role of Reno Sweeney then it is the multi-talented Ms. Foster—actress, singer, comedienne, and dancer. It’s almost like most of her other starring roles in past Broadway musicals—Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Shrek (but not Young Frankenstein where her talents were so wasted)—have been preparation for her star turn in Anything Goes.
First Preview: scheduled for March 10, 2011
Scheduled opening: April 7, 2011

Last season Denzel Washington recreated one of James Earl Jones signature roles, that of Troy Maxson, in a revival of August Wilson’s drama, Fences. So, happily (coincidentally?) Jones is returning the favor by heading back to the stage in a revival of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Driving Miss Daisy. But James Earl Jones is just one part of the dream cast for this production which will also be starring acting legend, Vanessa Redgrave and four-time Tony winner Boyd Gaines. I can’t wait for the acting master class to begin!
First Preview: October 7, 2010
Scheduled opening: October 25, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 29, 2011 closing.

One of the highlights from the 2008-2009 theater season was the Off-Broadway production of the musical Enter Laughing at the York Theatre Company. The show, in reality, a revival of the failed 1976 musical, So Long 174th Street, was hysterical and featured a comic tour de force by the young actor, Josh Grisetti. A Broadway run has been announced for 2010-2011, but little else has been revealed. I am assuming Grisetti will once again star as the stage struck teenager trying to break into show business, especially since his Broadway debut, in Broadway Bound last year, was derailed. It would be great if members of the York production also made the trip to Broadway. That cast included Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, Marla Schaffel, and Bob Dishy and they were terrific.
First Preview: To Be Announced
Scheduled opening: To Be Announced

In addition to being a Trekker I am a huge Harry Potter fan so I was intrigued, as well as excited, when it was announced that Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe would be making his Broadway musical debut in the 50th anniversary revival of Frank Loesser’s, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He has big shoes to step into, following in the footsteps of Robert Morse (1961) and Matthew Broderick (1995). Can the teenage Gryffindor sing? Will his J. Pierrepont Finch have an American accent? Will he be an English lad on assignment at the World Wide Wicket Company? Maybe the “Coffee Break” will be replaced with a friendly inter-office game of Quidditch? Radcliffe wasn’t much of a dancer at the Triwizard Tournament Ball, but that will probably change with Director/Choreographer Rob Ashford at the helm. BTW, did I mention the luscious Frank Loesser score?
First Preview: February 26, 2011
Scheduled opening: March 27, 2011

One of my favorite original cast recordings is the Charles Strouse/Lee Adams, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. The fourth Broadway score from the duo—following their Broadway debut, Bye Bye Birdie; the flop, All-American; and the semi-success, Golden Boy. 1966—Superman was another dud for the team. Most people blame Batman. The enormously successful, campy television show opened around the same time and took the thunder from the musical. Still, the score is fun and tuneful.

Enter the Dallas Theater Center which mounted a slightly modified version this summer—revised book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and some newly added songs—to very positive reviews. Starring Broadway’s Matt Cavenaugh, the word on the street is the production is looking north to Metropolis. Nothing firm. Just talk, for now. Let’s hope The Man of Steel returns for another try on The Great White Way. It’s big enough to handle two super heroes this season.
First Preview: Unknown
Scheduled opening: Unknown

Has it really been 22 years since The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway? The last of the over-sized London imports just keeps chugging along. Now comes the sequel—Love Never Dies, a continuation of The Phantom story set in Coney Island. Having already opened in the West End, to generally positive reviews, the Broadway version must overcome some discouraging history, namely sequels have not found much success on Broadway. The musical graveyard is filled with failed sequels, going all the way back to 1933 with the Gershwin’s Let ‘Em Eat Cake (sequel to Of Thee I Sing). Other flops on the sequel landscape have included Bring Back Birdie, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, and Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge. Still, for the millions of us that have seen The Phantom of the Opera over the past 20 years, can we really resist his lure a second time?
First Preview: To Be Announced
Scheduled opening: April 2011

I admit I am a huge Pee-Wee Herman fan--from the late 1980’s children’s show to his big screen escapades in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-Wee. So, I am both intrigued and enthusiastically expectant about The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway. How will Paul Reuben’s man-child transform his celluloid persona to the live stage? Well, I’ll be in my chairy at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre to find out.
First Preview: October 26, 2010
Scheduled opening: November 11, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled December 5, 2010 closing.

Probably the most anticipated musical of the past few years. Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark, should finally make its way to Broadway at the end of the year, now that all the financing is in place. Can the genius of Julie Taymor score a hit with Spidey in what will probably be the most expensive musical in Broadway history? And what about a score by U2’s Bono and The Edge? There have been rock scores in the past, but no group with the worldwide stature and appeal of U2 has ever written specifically for Broadway (I don’t count Tommy since it started life as a Who album; same with Green Day’s American Idiot). Lastly, let’s not discount the special effects and sets which will, again, probably be something we haven’t witnessed before on a New York stage.
First Preview: November 14, 2010
Scheduled opening: December 21, 2010

As Phil Rizzuto would cry, “Holy cow!” Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, AND Sherie Rene Scott all in the same cast? I can’t remember a Broadway musical with such star power in one show. Enough said!
First Preview: October 2, 2010
Scheduled opening: November 4, 2010
Special note: This is a limited run with a scheduled January 23, 2011 closing.

Will all these productions open this season? Probably not. Will those that do be hits? Again, nyet. Will there be other shows that will steal the limelight? Most indubitably. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review of "Zero Hour"

Zero Mostel has always been one of my favorite actors. Even though I only saw him perform in a handful of movies, most notably The Producers, he seemed to come alive through his comic numbers or poignant ballads in the original cast recordings of both A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof.

Bringing such an iconoclastic, bigger-than-life personality as Zero Mostel to life is no easy feat, but Jim Brochu, in his one man show, Zero Hour, thoroughly captures the essence of Mostel the comedian, actor, and painter.

The painting studio is the setting for the show as Mostel grudgingly sits for an interview with an unseen reporter. Actually, sitting would be the wrong word as Brochu, a large man himself, just like Mostel, is constantly in motion on the small stage at the Actor’s Temple Theater, an actual synagogue that rents out its sanctuary space part of the week as an Off-Broadway theater. Sparring with the reporter, peppering his answers with good-natured ribbing, we slowly get to know the Zero Mostel behind the exuberance and gaiety portrayed on stage and screen. We learn about his loving marriage to a Catholic woman, a move that exiled him from his highly religious, Jewish parents. Even on his mother’s deathbed she would not forgive his transgression. There is the beginning of his high-spirited and flamboyant career, first in nightclubs and then onto the stage.

The most moving and dramatic part of the 90 minute, intermission-less production centers around the Hollywood blacklist. Not only was Mostel ensnared in the hysteria produced by the hearings and recriminations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Senator Joseph McCarthy, but so were many of his friends and colleagues. Flourishing careers were snuffed out in a heartbeat while others committed suicide. The more fortunate actors, such as Mostel, were out-of-work for only a couple of years, but still shunned by many of his acting brethren. At one point during the show Mostel relives the seemingly doomed out-of-town tryouts of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Brought in to fix the musical is Jerome Robbins, a man who named names to the Committee on Un-American Activities, sending many of Mostel’s friends on the path to oblivion. A pariah in the actor’s eyes, he agrees with producer Hal Prince to let Robbins work his genius to save the show, but not without delivering, at the first rehearsal, a blistering speech eviscerating the acknowledged director/choreographer for his past deed.

The back-story of Forum as well as his recollections of Fiddler on the Roof are just a small part of Zero Hour. There is no singing or dancing. The production is really about the Zero Mostel the public never knew—the suffering and tortured artist who, in reality, just wanted to be a painter.

Jim Brochu, who also wrote the show, eerily conjures up Mostel in both speech and girth. Friends in real life, Brochu serves himself well by not trying to recreate memorable moments from Mostel’s past that could easily turn into parody or self-serving aggrandizement. Instead, he keeps the audience enraptured with personal stories that captivate, enthrall, and charm.