Sunday, June 26, 2011

What to See on Broadway in 2011

For the past few years I have listed my recommendations for people coming to New York to see a Broadway show. Below are my most up-to-date choices for June 2011. While there are a number of noteworthy productions, many of the top shows are continuously sold out and, therefore, advance planning is in order.

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

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 might 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 Mamma Mia and Phantom of the Opera. However, this is all an inexact science with numerous variables to consider. For example, a Tween girl will probably love Wicked, but a boy…? Conversely, a Tween or Teen boy might be enthralled with the spectacle of Spider-Man, but a girl…? Other considerations -- Is one seeking a musical comedy or 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? Etc. Etc.

I have not included such shows as The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, The Lion King, or Wicked 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 (Jersey Boys has been more available, but is still at 97%-98% capacity). 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 obtain theater tickets quite cheaply. You can refer to a previous blog I wrote.

The only non-musical I have included on my list is War Horse. If tickets are available – go! Fortunately, what was suppose to be a limited engagement is now an open-ended run.

Foul language is very subjective. I had a parent email me concerned about Billy Elliot. Yes, there are language issues with that musical, but nothing unheard of in middle and high schools across the country. And Billy Elliot is such a great show—the music, the dancing—I would not overlook the production because some of the young kids are cursing. The revival of Hair, coming back for a summer run, might cause some trepidation. The Book of Mormon is in a “language” category all by itself. If you or your children enjoy 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 review. So, without further ado…drum roll please…

TIKES (6-9 years old)

There use to be many Broadway shows for this age group, but the recommendations are now down to:
  1. Mary Poppins – When I saw the show there was a bevy of very young children directly in front of me. They didn’t make a peep. Enough said.
  2. Spider-Man – For TIKES at the older level. There are some scary moments when the monsters start attacking New York City. Not a great show, but with all the high-flying inside the theater the kids will be enthralled.

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?

  1. Billy Elliot – Not consistently selling out these days. Excellent score by Elton John and the dancing is some of the best on Broadway. TWEENS will be able to identify with the kids. Adults will find the story gripping.
  2. Sister Act – When the action is inside the convent, Sister Act is a spirited, lively and entertaining Broadway musical.
  3. The Addams Family – I found the show, based on the New York cartoons of Charles Addams, inoffensive and mildly amusing. TWEENS will probably like it because of the ghoulish nature of the source material.
  4. How to Succeed in Business – I was disappointed with the show, but if your TWEENS are huge Harry Potter fans this would be a popular choice.
  5. Spider Man – see under TIKES.
  6. Phantom of the Opera – Like the Energizer Bunny this Andrew Lloyd Webber warhorse goes on and on and on. Very theatrical with one of Webber’s most melodic and recognizable scores. Might be a bit scary. And where else would you find a crashing chandelier.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) - Wicked, or The Lion King.

TEENS (14-17 years old)

  1. Hair – One of the seminal rock musicals with another classic score. Youthful, energetic cast makes this a must see. Some language issues and nudity.
  2. Billy Elliot – see under TWEENS.
  3. Memphis – characters you care about, excellent performances and solid score.
  4. How to Succeed in Business – I was disappointed with the show and while Daniel Radcliffe gives it his all his casting of J. Pierpont Finch was all-wrong. However, a must for Harry Potter fans.
  5. Sister Act – see under TWEENS.
  6. The Addams Family – see under TWEENS.
  7. Spider-Man – see under TWEENS.
  8. Mamma Mia – I thoroughly enjoyed Mamma Mia, but this recommendation is ONLY if you are an ABBA fan.
  9. The Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, War Horse, Wicked, or The Lion King.

YOUNG ADULTS (18+ years old)

  1. Hair – see under TEENS.
  2. Memphis – see under TEENS.
  3. Anything Goes – a bit low-key, but when Sutton Fosters revs up her dancing shoes and singing voice the show really heats up.
  4. Billy Elliot – see under TWEENS.
  5. How to Succeed in Business – see under TEENS.
  6. Sister Act – see under TWEENS.
  7. Mamma Mia – see under TEENS.
  8. The Addams Family – see under TWEENS.
  9. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
  10. Rock of Ages – retro, 1980’s power rock musical. For the classic rock crowd.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, War Horse, Wicked, or The Lion King.


  1. Anything Goes – see under YOUNG ADULTS.
  2. Memphis – see under TEENS.
  3. Billy Elliot – see under TWEENS.
  4. Sister Act – see under TWEENS.
  5. Phantom of the Opera – see under TWEENS.
  6. Mamma Mia – see under TEENS.
  7. The Addams Family – see under TEENS.
  8. How to Succeed in Business – see under TEENS.
IF AVAILABLE/LONG-RANGE PLANNING (in order) – The Book of Mormon, War Horse, Jersey Boys, or Wicked.

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

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

At long last the embattled musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has finally opened. While I have followed the travails of the show in the media over the past six months, I have not seen any previous incarnations. Therefore, my review is based solely on my attendance at the official press night earlier this month.

So, what is the verdict? Has all those months or reworking, rewrites, restaging, reimagining, re-this, and re-that produced a hit or miss? Spider-Man, unfortunately, fails as a fully developed Broadway musical. I would classify it more as a Las Vegas spectacular or a Cirque de Soleil extravaganza. The story is banal, the characters are two-dimensional; and the score by Bono and The Edge of the rock super group, U2, is solemn with few unmemorable songs and too many overarching power ballads.

The plot follows the birth of the Spider-Man character—young Peter Parker, visiting a genetic engineering research firm, is accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider, thus enhancing the geeky high school student with superhuman powers. At the same time his body is undergoing such drastic physical and emotional change Parker is dealing with the death of his beloved uncle; his relationship with would-be girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson; and how to rid New York City of a small army of genetically created monsters, wrecking havoc around The Big Apple.

The cast is satisfactory with Reeve Carney as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Jennifer Damiano as the love of his life, Mary Jane, notable primarily because they are on stage most often. Carney, brooding and contemplative, tries to salvage his role, but with the mostly rewritten book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (original librettists Glen Berger and Julie Taymor are also credited) more a life-like depiction of a Spider-Man comic book there is no way Carney, as well as any cast member, can develop true, emotionally well-rounded characters.

The score by Bono and The Edge is not up to the ususal U2 standards. I doubt any of the numbers would have made the final cut for one of their multi-platinum selling albums. The songs are rather cheerless and moody pieces. Yes, the two are newcomers to the Broadway stage and with all the disarray swirling around the development of the production they could be given a break. But trying to write a Broadway score long distance—the group was touring Australia and New Zealand during a good amount of time during the show’s gestation period—proved to be an unsuccessful formula.

The director or, as he is billed in the Playbill, “Creative Consultant,” (ousted director, Julie Taymor, is still listed as “Original Direction by”) Philip McKinley has a background in Broadway musicals, but is better known as conceiving and directing multiple editions of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s The Greatest Show on Earth. This experience serves him well in supervising the aerial daredevilry and stunts (more on that later). But the direction of the non-high-flying portions of the show are matter-of-fact and are only salvaged by George Tsypin’s imaginative and striking sets (again, more later). The choreography, by Daniel Ezralow and Chase Brock, which could potentially inject life into the musical, is lackluster and uninspired.

So, what’s positive about the show? The backdrops, scenery and projections are superb (you know a production is in trouble when that’s its most outstanding feature). If the rest of the musical was half as good, Spider-Man would be a smash hit. Viewing certain set pieces unfold into buildings and neighborhoods; moveable parts assemble around the stage, giving breadth and depth to the city; and large stage encompassing projections utilized to heighten the fear and terror brought forth by the super-villain, The Green Goblin and his henchmen, you can begin to understand why Spider-Man is the most expensive show in Broadway history. One of the more striking scenes is when the two teenagers are walking home, after Peter Parker has been roughed up at school, and as they head through their rundown streets the neighborhood scenery unfolds and changes via the pages of an oversized picture book. In “Bouncing Off the Walls,” the soon-to-be Spider-man begins to discover his new powers and, literally, begins to climb and bounce off the walls of his room. It is a simple, but effective scene.

Lastly, there are the high-flying aerial derring-dos, what the musical has infamously become known for during all these months leading up to its opening night. The aerial design and rigging by Scott Rogers and Jaque Paquin is impressive—up to a point. After a while the wow factor begins to fade as the jumping and ricocheting around inside the interior of the Foxwoods Theatre becomes a bit tiring. Even the climatic battle scene, played out above the audience, between Spider-Man and The Green Goblin wears thin rather quickly.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, a lightweight entertainment spectacle more three-ring circus then Broadway musical.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review of "The Mad Bomber" in Waterbury, CT

During the late 1940’s to mid-1950’s, George Metesky of Waterbury, a former Consolidated Edison employee, disgruntled over an injury received on the job, began a reign of terror in New York City by planting pipe bombs in well-known and well-traveled places in the city. He became known as “The Mad Bomber” and part of his story is now the basis for a world premiere musical at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT.

The show, entitled “Mad Bomber,” is, at best, viewed as what might be the first step in a long process to fully realize its potential. Many new musicals go through a systematic developmental route to work on all aspects of a show. This would involve staged readings, workshop productions, out-of-town tryouts and, finally, opening night. The current production of the “Mad Bomber” could be classified as being at the workshop stage.

There are two areas of the musical that the creative team needs to address. First, is the direction of the show. Many players are introduced at the onset—New York City Mayor, Robert Wagner; Police Commissioner Kennedy; Democratic boss, Carmine DeSapio; James Brussel, a psychiatrist and profiler—with the sole purpose of providing an unnecessary amount of background information (which is already provided in the program). This needless exposition and introduction of real-life characters serves no real purpose in moving the action forward and delays the focus of the musical—the story of George Metesky. However, Charles Monagan, who wrote both book and lyrics to the “Mad Bomber,” has included in the cast two reporters, Sally Jo Dorman and Billy Breen, from competing newspapers that helped break the case. While the roles need more development, the two, played with charm and vitality by Cassie Okenka and Bobby Grouse, could be the thread to provide a coherent structure to the production. This would also allow more of the George Metesky character who is only seen spottily throughout the show.

The second issue that needs to be examined is the tone of the musical. What is the overall objective? Does the musical want to have darker, more cynical overtones? Is it looking to be a more lighthearted, romantic romp (as when Sally Jo and Billy inexplicably go into an entertaining, but baffling tap routine)? The production zigs and zags from one shade to another, incorporating too many styles instead of focusing on one. The one scene I thought worked extremely well, with menacing nuances and dramatic tension, was during the song, “Dear Sir,” where, in a split stage, Sally Jo is composing open letters to the Mad Bomber and reading the responses to her newspaper while on the other side of the stage Metesky composes his rantings and berates his treatment by the publication and the world. If the essence of those moments on stage could be expanded to the whole production, the “Mad Bomber” could become riveting theater. Meaningless characters, pointless scenes and superfluous songs could be excised, replaced with material that would build to a gripping climax.

John Swanson, as George Metesky, gives a world-weary performance, but he comes across as more upset then someone who, at the end of his eventual trial, was declared a paranoid schizophrenic and legally insane. In addition to Cassie Okenka and Bobby Grouse, both who demonstrate wonderful singing voices; Matt Martin’s performance during “The Paris of Naugatuck Valley” is a highlight of the show.

The score by Richard DeRosa and Charles Monagan has some promising numbers but, like the libretto, needs work in crafting songs that better flesh out the characters in the show and more effectively move along the plot of the production.

Director Semina DeLaurentis works well with the material presented to her, but as the leader of the creative team needs, in this case, to function more as an editor, critic and cheerleader to further shape and mold the material; choreographer Janine Molinari needs to bring a consistent and appropriate style to the musical. Is tap and some ballroom dance steps germane to the thrust of the show?

The “Mad Bomber” – a promising premise that needs further development in order to realize its full potential, playing at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT now through June 26th.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011 Tony Awards

The real question tonight is how many Tonys will The Book of Mormon receive. I'll be blogging "live" all night long.

-Neil Patrick Harris' opening was a great introduction to the show. Maybe a bit too heavy on the gay emphasis for the country's midsection, but nice razzle dazzle.

-Ellen, it's the first award. Let'a wrap it up!

-"Brotherhoold of Man" number from How to Succeed is outstanding! Except why does the camera keep focusing off to the side during the song? Stay centered! Daniel Radcliffe seems much more self-assured and relaxed then when the show opened. He shows he can dance and sing. Should drum up business at the box office.

-Interesting idea to have John Leguizamo reminisce about his Broadway moment, but a tad too much.

-Normal Heart shaping up to be the big non-musical winner.

-Smart move for Catch Me If You Can to highlight "Don't Break the Rules" from the show. It was the best production number of the musical and allows the world to joyfully experience the talent of Norbert Leo Butz.

-Spiderman jokes were very funny even though Bono didn't seem over pleased. The gimmick is from Comedy Central's Tosh 2.0.

-Such a powerful show it's a shame The Scottsboro Boys closed after such a short run. Thank goodness it's going to be touring. Good number from the show even though it doesn't have the feel good nature of the other nominees.

-I wish The Book of Mormon number was either "Hello," "Two by Two," or "Turn It Off" instead of "I Believe." That would have really given the TV audience a much better idea of the show.

-Wow! Best part of the broadcast so far--Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris with their "Anything You Can Do" duet. That was a showstopper.

-WHAT???!!!! I can't believe John Larroquette wins Best Featured Actor in a Musical for How to Succeed. I didn't think he was very good at all. Rory O'Malley was soooo funny in The Book of Mormon. He should have won. Even Forrest McClendon and Colman Domingo from The Scottsboro Boys were better then Larroquette. Very disappointing.

-Is that the best they can show from Spiderman? Wake me when the song ends.

-I am so happy that the creative team from War Horse is being recognized. This was one show where sound, lighting, music, and effects were just as integral to the production's success as any other aspect of the show.

-Let's see, if my math is correct, I have The Book of Mormon down for six Tonys.

-Perfect number to introduce potential theatergoers to Sister Act.

-My favorite number from Memphis, "Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll." Nice promo for the show. I can't believe Chad Kimball and Montego Glover are still in the musical. Good for them and great for audiences.

-Congratulations to War Horse. I think they are up to five Tonys. I told you all to get your tickets early.

-You want to sell tickets to your show via the Tony broadcast? Step one--have a great song. Step two--have a triple threat actress such as Sutton Foster leading the way. Step three--throw in a rousing tap number. This production number is why Anything Goes will win Best Musical Revival and why Foster should win her second Tony Award.

-Again, let's stage a musical number strictly to sell tickets. This time to promote the all-star Company coming to hundreds of movie theaters across the country that will be charging $18.00 a pop to view the filmed production. Was I alone, or did others feel that "Side by Side" was a bit flat? Uninteresting?

-Daniel, slow down, relax. Have fun. Just wave a wand or something during the Best Actress announcements?

-I am so happy that I've been able to see Sutton Foster in most of her Broadway roles. She is soooo great.

-Why is it that I have no desire to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? And after their turn on stage my attitude is only amplified.

-As the 2011 Tony Award telecast comes to a close I would have to say this is one of the best Tony Award broadcasts I can remember. It was entertaining, had nice pacing, and real energy. Now, let's see what the fall-out will be.

-Congratulations to Mark Rylance for Best Actor. I preferred him in La Bete, which I love. Did not care for Jerusalem. Why does he always have to give such a rambling acceptance speech?

-So happy to see Norbert Leo Butz win. He is such a trooper, whether in a play, comedy, or musical. This just might save Catch Me If You Can from an early demise.

-Gee, how anti-climatic -- The Book of Mormon wins Best Musical. That brings them to eight total awards for the show. Good job.

-Chris Rock gets my nomination to host next year's awards. His few moments on stage were very funny. Unscripted, edgy, and funny. Neil Patrick Harris--fine job, once again. has posted Neil Patrick Harris' show ending rap, penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda of In the Heights fame.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Discounts to Broadway Shows

The other day I posted information about discount tickets to Broadway shows on, my favorite site for seeking travel information and recommendations. With the summer tourist season about to begin in New York, I thought it would be helpful to reprint the information here.

1. The TKTS half-priced ticket booth in the middle of 46th and Broadway has A LOT of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows discounted up to 50% (there are also locations at the South Street Seaport and in Brooklyn). The booth sells same day tickets to shows, opening at 10am for matinees and 3pm for evening productions (you cannot buy evening tickets during 10am - 2pm). You always want to get in line with 4-5 choices. Sometimes you will find some of the hits up there, mostly Tuesday-Thursday nights, but don't count on finding Wicked, Lion King, or The Book of Mormon. The queue can be long, but goes fast. It is also a very friendly line. You meet the most interesting people from all over the world. The TKTS Booth now accepts credit card payment. There is a $4.00 per ticket surcharge for each ticket purchased.

2. Almost every Broadway show has a lottery and/or rush policy. You could score VERY inexpensive tickets.

3. Go to Choose a show and print out the discount coupon code page. Shows can be discounted up to 50% (again, not the most popular ones). You can order online, but the problem is they add an $8-$10 PER ticket surcharge. It is better to print out the coupon code page and bring them to NYC. I would suggest printing out coupons for 4-6 different shows. Go directly to the box office. There is no surcharge doing it this way, you get to choose your seat location, and you can purchase tickets when the box office opens which is usually around 10am. Check the coupon page, but for most shows you can purchase up to eight tickets per page.