Friday, May 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bit Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 7, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2011

2011 Tony Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review of "Sister Act"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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