Thursday, December 16, 2010

Latest TDF Articles

I'm pretty excited about the series of articles I've written for TDF Stages about creating the sound for Broadway shows. Earlier this year, I profiled the fascinating Red Press, who has worked on Broadway as a musician and music contractor/coordinator for over 50 years. I also wrote about musicians who perform onstage in musicals, rather than in the pit. My two most recent articles included an interview with Jeanine Tesori about writing the score for a play (A Free Man of Color) and an interview with the orchestrator and music director of American Idiot about adapting Green Day's music for the stage.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Jolly Holiday With Andrew Kober

Andrew Kober's Sunday night Feinstein's concert entitled "The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" was the musical equivalent of drinking a glass of eggnog (if you don't like eggnog, mentally replace with a winter drink you enjoy) and eating a plate of holiday cookies. That's a good thing, since he said his goal for the audience was to want get wrapped up in a Slanket, drink some hot chocolate, and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas (his rendition of "Christmas Time is Here" definitely put me in the mood for the Snoopy dance). This was a one-off concert, but he should consider a longer run next year.

Kober's sense of humor and natural way of speaking to the audience made it feel like you were joining him in his living room (albeit a very fancy living room). He sang many classics, including "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "White Christmas," and "Jingle Bells," but Jason Sherbundy's jazzy arrangements provided a fresh take. Kober has an impressive range, which he proved in Hair by singing as several characters, including a woman, and he can now add crooner to that list. Kober's girlfriend, Farra Ungar, joined him for "Baby It's Cold Outside" as a last-minute replacement for Megan Lawrence. It was a sweet moment and their chemistry made it a highlight of the evening. With concerts as entertaining as this one, it's no wonder this is considered the most wonderful time of the year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Small Fire

One of the first shows I'll be seeing in the new year is A Small Fire, by Adam Bock and directed by Trip Cullum, at Playwrights Horizons. The talented cast features Reed Birney (Circle Mirror Transformation), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Spelling Bee, Bachelorette), and Michele Pawk (Cabaret). The plot description from the press release states, "When a tough-as-nails contractor finds her senses slipping on the brink of her daughter’s wedding, the impact on her family is nothing less than seismic." I won't be seeing the show, which starts previews on December 16, for another few weeks, and I'll review it then, but I wanted to give you all a chance to use this discount code.


Special A SMALL FIRE offer for Pataphysical Science blog readers!

Order by December 31 with code SMGR and tickets are only:

· $40* (reg. $70) for all performances December 16-30, 2010

· $55 (reg. $70) for all performances January 1-23, 2011



HOW TO ORDER:

· Order online at www.playwrightshorizons.org. Use code SMGR.

· Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)

· Present a printout of this blog post to the Ticket Central box office at 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).



*A limited number of $40 discounted tickets will be available for purchase. Subject to availability. Valid only in select rows.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Haunting Brenda Blethyn

Despite three fine performances, there was something alienating about the writing in Haunted that kept me distanced. But there is still plenty to savor in Haunted, part of the Brits Off Broadway festival (an Anglophile's dream) at 59E59. The play runs through January 2.

The memory play is narrated by Mr. Berry (Niall Buggy), a romantic with a vivid imagination, and it's hard to know whether everything happened as he said or whether some of it was in his mind. He recalls the day a young lady, Hazel (Beth Cooke), comes to his house and he is instantly infatuated. After finding out that she gives elocution lessons, he asks her to teach him in exchange for his wife's (who she believes to be dead) clothes. Mrs. Berry (Brenda Blethyn) is very-much alive and working at a doll factory.

Cooke, in her New York debut, is sweet as the delicate Hazel. Buggy gives Mr. Berry just the right combination of charm and creepiness. Not surprisingly, since the play was written as a vehicle for her, Blethyn is the driving force of the play. Her performance is funny, moving, and yes, even haunting. Her tangible pain of a woman still hurting from her long ago miscarriage and husband's infidelities makes Mrs. Berry the only character I cared about.

The design elements are particularly evocative of how bleak the marriage has become. Projections by Jack James, sound design by Pete Rice, and music by Akintayo Akinbode are suitably forboding. The carousel horse hanging from the ceiling of Simon Higlett's living room set is a nice touch, and used effectively later in the play.

All of this does not completely make up for the fact that there are moments when the play gets bogged down in Edna O'Brien's dense writing and there is not enough plot to sustain the 2 hour 15 minute run time, but Blethyn's performance makes the price of admission worthwhile.

Photo credit: Jonathan Keenan

Monday, November 15, 2010

Adam Pascal at Queens Theatre In The Park

Not even the daunting trek to Queens or a subway ride from hell kept me away from meandlarry, Adam Pascal's concert tour with Larry Edoff. Delays on the 7 train led to the most crowded/uncomfortable train experience of my life, but once I got off the train at Mets/Willets Point, the free shuttle to the theater was incredibly easy to find. The driver was very kind and even called the theater to tell them that there were problems with the subway and to hold the concert.

As you can tell by the photo (credit: Dominick Totino), Queens Theatre in the Park is a lovely space. Events are held all year round and if there is an act performing that you want to check out and you don't live in Queens, I highly recommend making the trip (just check the subway advisories beforehand). But on to the concert.

It was a mostly older crowd, with some teens/tweens mixed in. Pascal took the stage alone for the first song and said, "Here is a song from the worst show I've ever seen," and proceeded to sing an innovative version of "Memory" (think Andrew Lloyd Webber with an indie rock twist). I appreciated his take on the song, but clearly he never saw Starlight Express, which is a far worse show than Cats. There were plenty of empty seats in the small space and this did not go unnoticed by Pascal who said, "This is what we call in the industry sparsely attended." He did thank the audience multiple times for being there and he did put his all into the show, but there were some uncomfortable moments like this one, where it wasn't clear if he was being self-deprecating or bitter.

The set list was a mix of original songs (co-written by Edoff) and show tunes. A highlight was the haunting "I Don't Care Much" from Cabaret (Pascal played the final Emcee in the acclaimed production of the show at Studio 54), which then segued into Elton John's "Rocket Man" and back to "I Don't Care Much." It was a better mashup than anything they've done on Glee.

At one point, Pascal said that he gets asked a lot about what it's like to be a Broadway actor. He told a story about he was brought to perform an acoustic set of original material somewhere in Florida and someone in the audience yelled for him to sing something from RENT. When he apologized that he didn't have that prepared, the audience started walking out. "That's what it's like," he said. He then sang "What I Did For Love" from A Chorus Line, so I like to think that he was implying with the song choice that it's all worth it and that he is happy to be known for theater rather than rock (which is where his career began).

He only sang one song from RENT, his "one hit" as he called it, "One Song Glory." For this RENT fan who waited 14 years to hear him perform that song live, it made the subway trauma of an hour before worth it.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Reefer Madness is Smokin'

Pictured: Greg Horton and the cast of The Gallery Players’ production of Reefer Madness. Photo by Bella Muccari.
Though there is no actual pot being smoked onstage, you may leave Reefer Madness with a contact high. Hilariously staged by Dev Bondarin, extremely well acted, and at the bargain price of $18 a ticket, I defy anyone to leave The Gallery Players's production without smiling.

Reefer Madness, based on the 1938 propaganda film against marijuana, was turned into a musical by Kevin Murphy (book, lyrics) and Dan Studney (book, music) in 1998. The show originated in Los Angeles and ran off-Broadway in 2001.

The musical begins with the Lecturer (Greg Horton, with more than a passing resemblance to Jon Lovitz, but funnier and with a powerful voice) warning of reefer and leading the catchy opening number "Reefer Madness." He proceeds to tell the tale of Jimmy Harper (Jason Edward Cook), who just wants to learn to dance to impress his girlfriend Mary Lane (Rebecca Dealy), but gets sucked into the dangerous world of reefer.

The animated Cook is perfectly cast as the square-turned-reefer fiend and Dealy is just as suited to the role of his innocent lover. One of the highlights of the evening is their adorable duet "Romeo & Juliet," in which they speculate about the happy futures that await the characters in Shakespeare's play. The cast is supported by strong dance work from the hard-working ensemble.

With the legalization of marijuana in the news, this is a timely moment for a revival of Reefer Madness, but it's also escapist fun, and who doesn't need that?

Pictured (l to r): Jason Edward Cook, Michele Scully, and Zak Risinger in The Gallery Players’ production of Reefer Madness. Photo by Bella Muccari.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Explosive New Musical

Earlier this week, theater fans received the news that In The Heights would close on January 9, 2011. As sad as it is when shows close, especially one as joyous as Heights, it did have an impressive three-year run and made a lasting impact on musical theater. After seeing the explosive (it's a term used in the subtitle, but it's the most appropriate description) new musical Venice at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California, I got to thinking about how a musical like In The Heights made it possible for a musical like Venice to exist.
Venice, with a book by Eric Rosen and music by Matt Sax (Rosen and Sax share a lyricist credit), is loosely based on Othello. The show takes place in a fictionalized Venice after 20 years of war. A group called the Disappeared, who were kept safe during the war, are finally returning to the city. One of them is Willow (Andrea Goss), who is about to marry the new leader Venice (Javier Muñoz). Venice's half brother Markos (Rodrick Covington) is still reeling from Venice's decision to promote Michael Viktor (Erich Bergen), also one of the Disappeared, to lieutenant general over him, and which leads into the Othello-like story of betrayal and jealousy.

Matt Sax has written one of the most contemporary scores I've ever heard in a musical. He is also a skilled rapper as he plays the narrator Clown (the cast is pretty much perfect, not a weak link among them). While In The Heights does have a hip hop score, it is still a traditional musical. Venice is not only much darker (the character of Venice is a product of a rape), but it feels like it's breaking new ground in the way the score is used. Any type of music could be used to tell this story, it just happens to be hip hop, but it's not the point. And because In The Heights set the groundwork, I think audiences will be more likely to accept Venice.

Lately, critics have crowned Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as the future of musical theater, which is troubling. It relies on silly jokes rather than saying anything all that intelligent about the political situation today or then. Though it's billed as an emo music, it bears little resemblance to the emo music that's played on the radio. I won't include American Idiot in this discussion because that was an album by Green Day first. The music of Venice was composed specifically for a show, but I could hear many of these songs played on the radio. There is a lot of talk of Leap of Faith, also part of the Center Theatre Group's season, coming to Broadway in the fall 2011. While that would be nice, especially so Raul Esparza can finally win his Tony, Venice is a show that needs to be on a New York stage, or really any stage.

Photo credit: Craig Schwartz

Social Network (not that one)

The Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York and TheaterMania have teamed up for a social network aimed at independent New York City theaters--New York Theatre Network. The site launched on September 28 with the motto, "The who, what, and where of New York City theater."

The idea for a one-stop shop for independent theaters and theatergoers came from Virginia Louloudes, executive director of A.R.T./New York. She wanted to find a partner to help maintain the website and as the first website where users could purchase tickets and find information about Off-Off-Broadway shows, TheaterMania was the perfect match.

Theater companies can log in to NYTN and update information about their current shows. Even the smallest theaters can create videos by borrowing Flip cams from A.R.T./New York. "Theaters as small as the Dark Lady Players and as large as Roundabout have an equal platform," Louloudes says. In an effort to educate theaters about social networking, A.R.T./New York offers classes to teach theater companies about making YouTube videos, writing for a website, tweeting, creating a social marketing plan, etc.

Visitors to NYTN can search for shows or theaters and buy tickets, get personal recommendations, watch videos, read blogs, and post in discussion boards. Through Facebook connect, visitors can also see what theaters and shows their friends are liking and access Facebook fan pages and Twitter pages in one place. "Liking one theater is never enough. Come and like them all," Louloudes says.

You can log into NYTN here and follow @NY_TN on Twitter.

Photo credit: PR Newswire

A Football Fan and A Theater Nerd Walk Into A Broadway House...

Since writing this article for TDF Stages on Lombardi's marketing strategy, I've been curious about who would get more out of the show--theater fans or football fans. I had the perfect opportunity to find out when my parents came to New York for a visit. I'm an avid theatergoer (I'm guessing you knew this) and I don't know anything about football. My father is a football fan who only occasionally enjoys the theater. I took him to see Lombardi, a little bit as a social experiment, but mostly because I finally found a way to spend time with my dad while combining both of our interests.

I did not expect to be so engaged in Eric Simonson's play from start to finish. In the play, fictional reporter Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs), is assigned to profile Vince Lombardi (a convincing Dan Lauria). Most of the action takes place in the home Lombardi shares with his wife, Marie (a scene-stealing Judith Light), though a few scenes take place on the football field. There were only a few moments of football speak where I felt confused.

Usually if I see a play or film with my dad, I'll ask him what he thinks and he'll say, "It was OK," or, "I liked it," and leaves it at that. But after this show, he was eager to discuss it. First, we talked about the performances, which we agreed were the strongest aspect of the show, especially Lauria and Light. Then, we talked about how well the staging worked in the round. The theater was set up to look like a stadium, and the set pieces rotated. My father was especially impressed with the way Thomas Kail staged the action so as not to alienate any section of the audience.

We also discussed what didn't work in the play. We both found that it focused too much on the reporter character and not enough on Vince Lombardi. My father wanted to know more about Lombardi's take on football and thought that sports fans would be disappointed by how little football there was (interestingly, the play got stronger reviews from sports critics than theater critics). I came away learning a lot more than I did before about Lombardi, but I didn't really understand why he was such a legendary coach. We also both felt that the relationship between Lombardi and his son either needed to be more fully developed or dropped entirely.

At the performance I attended, I looked around at the audience to see a mix of ages, races, and genders, a few Packers jerseys, as well as your typical matinee crowd. It may not be the best play ever written, but in terms of bringing new audiences to the theater, Lombardi scores a touchdown.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Contest: Win Tickets To Lombardi

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you so much to everyone who entered. Congrats to winner Lisa Bodnar! I will be e-mailing you shortly with details on how to claim your tickets.

The 2010-2011 season is officially underway and if you see a lot more football fans hanging out in Times Square than usual, it could be because of Lombardi. Lombardi is about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi (played by Dan Lauria) and explores his life both on and off the field. I'm giving away a pair of tickets to the show. To enter, all you have to do is answer the two following questions (one is about theater and the other is about football to even the playing field) in the comments. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle so you can be contacted if you win. I have temporarily turned on comment moderation and will wait until the contest ends to post the comments. The contest will end on Friday, October 15 at 5 p.m. The winner will be chosen at random from the correct entries. Thanks to Art Meets Commerce for arranging the tickets.

1) Tommy Kail, the director of Lombardi, who was nominated for a Tony Award for directing In The Heights, graduated from which Connecticut University?

2) How many Super Bowls did Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers win?



If you don't win tickets, fear not, the producers are also offering a
special fan offer:

Save over 30% on LOMBARDI on Broadway

$79 Orch (A-G) (reg $115)
$49 Orch (H-K) (reg $115)

· Go to BroadwayOffers.com and use code LOAMC96
· Call 212.947.8844 and use code LOAMC96
· Visit the Circle in the Square Box Office at
50th Street West of Broadway and mention code LOAMC96

*Offer valid for performances 9/23/10-11/21/10, except 10/21/10. Offer valid for select seats. Subject to availability and prior sale. Not valid for prior purchases or in combination with any other offer. Blackout dates may apply. Offer may be revoked or modified at any time without notice. Service charges apply to online and phone orders. Ticket price includes a $2 facilities fee. All sales final; no refunds or exchanges.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It Gets Better

In response to a recent string of teen suicides as a result of bullying, sex advice columnist Dan Savage started the YouTube channel "It Gets Better." I've been very moved by these videos. I know I've probably had it easy. I'm straight. I'm white. I've never been overweight. But I was a victim of bullying from early elementary until high school. It's still painful for me to go into specifics, but it was very hard for me to go to school. I had to stop going to the restroom during school because there was a group of girls that would wait for me there and give me a hard time. Students would say hateful things to me during class, but if I told a teacher about it, it would just make it worse. There were a few girls who I thought were my friends, but in middle school, for whatever reason, probably because they were middle school girls, they turned on me. I have a very loving family and it is because of them that I was able to get through these years. It wasn't until eighth grade that I was able to make friends I trusted. High school was much easier because it was a large school and I was in honors and AP classes so I never had to see most of the kids who were cruelest to me. In college, I had a fresh start and it just kept getting better from there. Now I'm probably happier and more confident than I've ever been. It really does get better.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

St. Billie Rocks The St. James

When it was announced that Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day frontman, would step into the role of St. Jimmy in American Idiot for only 8 performances, it may have sounded like a stunt, another attempt to boost ticket sales, which it was (here is an interesting New York Times article with more details), but Armstrong's debut on Tuesday night proved to be one of the most exhilarating nights of theater I've experienced.

From the line outside to get into the theater, the excitement all around was palpable, yet there was nothing to indicate that this show would be any different besides the packed house (a rarity for American Idiot these days). There was no sign in the lobby, no insert in the program. During the pre-show announcement, after the request to turn off all cell phones, the announcer added very matter-of-factly, "Tonight, the role of St. Jimmy, usually played by Tony Vincent, will be played by Billie Joe Armstrong." The response from the crowd was defeaning.

The cast seemed a bit more nervous and there was longer applause between each song, but for the most part, the show was the same as it is always is, with the cast working as hard as they always do. The character of St. Jimmy doesn't arrive until about half-an-hour in. Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.) starts singing "St. Jimmy," and then he appears "like a zip gun on parade," racing down the stairs with the video screens zeroing in on his manic expressions. It is always a thrilling entrance no matter who is in the role, but this time, we were treated to an actual rock star, not just a character who looks and sings like one. Armstrong nailed every bit of staging, choreography, and note, and was a true professional. The only time he broke character was after "The Death of St. Jimmy." Ensemble members carried him off the stage and for a brief moment, he waved to the audience, who ate it up.

I should say that Tony Vincent is excellent in the role (I was shocked when he didn't get a Tony nomination for his performance). Vincent's interpretation of St. Jimmy is much more sinister, while Armstrong is more playful. Armstrong is not better than Vincent, but seeing the person who wrote the material always adds something, whether it be Lin-Manuel Miranda in In The Heights or Stew in Passing Strange. The writer has a connection to the characters that nobody else can.

I encourage any fan of the show or of Armstrong to see him this week (he will be in it through Sunday). While I would recommend the show even when he is not in it, I'm curious to see whether sales will pick up at all after he leaves. Maybe some audience members who saw the show because of Armstrong will want to go back, but I can't really see sales increasing substantially for the future. A friend of mine thought that Armstrong should randomly show up in the musical from time to time but never announce it in advance, so that his fans would buy tickets frequently. But I wouldn't want to see him in the show too often--it would take away from the once-in-a-lifetime feeling. Besides, I don't think that would be fair to the actors.

This week, Rock of Ages announced that Dee Snider will be taking over the role of Dennis. I don't know if this will generate the same level of excitement--he's in it for a longer period of time and didn't write the show (though some of his songs are featured)--but again, I'm interested to see if this becomes a trend. Maybe if Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is not a sellout, Bono and the Edge will step in.

Photo credit: Krissie Fullerton, see more photos at Playbill.com

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Now Circa Then

If you're interested in the history of the Lower East Side, you could go to the Tenement Museum, or you could see Carly Mensch's Now Circa Then at Ars Nova, or even better, make a day of it and do both. Though the play is more about relationship drama, there is a lot of history woven in, and funny, but educational bonus materials are handed out after the show.

The play takes place in a Lower East Side tenement house. The action begins as Gideon (Stephen Plunkett) and Margie (Maureen Sebastian), two historical reenactors playing immigrant couple Julian and Josephine, begin our tour. Gideon is a history enthusiast and an expert reenactor while Margie is a recent transplant from Michigan and just needs a job. Some of the action takes place during the tour and sometimes we see Gideon and Margie interacting on their downtime. Plunkett and Sebastian make it easy to follow whether or not they are in character with subtle changes in posture and voice.

Each act is cleverly set up in a different part of the house. It starts in the parlor as Gideon and Margie get to know each other, then moves into the kitchen as they become involved romantically, and finally ends up in the bedroom, as things start to get serious and complicated. Plunkett and Sebastian easily adapt to the shifts and tone throughout the piece. Though Gideon is an annoying know-it-all, Plunkett makes him likable with a hint of vulnerability. Sebastian is hilarious in Margie's clueless moments, but also manages to make her pain and confusion palpable in later scenes.

As believable as Plunkett and Sebastian are in their roles, I question a few aspects of the play. I'm not an expert on museums, but it seems that eventually someone would catch on that the reenactors are going severely off-course or that a museum patron would complain. Still, it's easy to overlook and get caught up in the relationship between both couples. As an added bonus, Ars Nova is one of the best deals in town. All tickets are $25 and if sign up for a free Super Nova membership online, you get a free drink at every show.

Photo credit: Carol Rosseg

Friday, September 24, 2010

Orlando

Sarah Ruhl takes a story theater approach, in which the actors narrate the story, in adapting Virginia Woolf's Orlando for the stage and the result is a visually appealing production that highlights the poetry in Woolf's words.

Orlando opened last night at the Classic Stage Company and runs through October 17. Orlando is a young man in Elizabethan England who has a way with women until he wakes up one day to discover he has changed sexes and has to live as a woman, never growing old, through the 19th and 20th centuries. Last year, Nina Arianda stole the show in CSC's Venus in Fur and this year the company has another breakout star in Francesca Faridany. She is believable as both the male and female versions of the character.

Allen Moyer's scenic design is lovely in its simplicity. The stage is a grassy turf with a mirror hung up above and a small portable model of Orlando's house. One of the most stunning moments is when a white sheet is used as frost to cover the grass, and then is slowly peeled away as the frost melts. Anita Yavich's costume design is often playful, such as the Queen Elizabeth costume that David Greenspan dons.

Due to the fact that the characters are often narrating the story with little action or dialogue, the play is somewhat lacking in dramatic tension, especially for one who hasn't read the book or seen the movie, but as the words and movement of the characters flow so effortlessly, it makes for a relaxing two hours of theater.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fringe Encore Series: How My Mother Died of Cancer, and Other Bedtime Stories

For my 15th and final 2010 Fringe NYC show, I attended the closing night of How My Mother Died of Cancer, and Other Bedtime Stories by Chris Kelly. Kelly has done an admirable job of turning his own tragedy (his mother died of cancer) into art. Though the show is uneven, the old adage it will make you laugh and cry applies here. The humor might make some uncomfortable--laughing at death isn't easy, but it never crosses the line into the offensive.

Kate (Elizabeth Romanski) is staging a play about her mother and she enlists her brother Tim (Jim deProphetis), her father (Mike Boland), her brother's friend Barry (Dylan Kammerer), and her friends Lena (Brianna Tyson) and Trent (Josh Hemphill) to help. Since they aren't actors, they constantly interrupt the show to voice their own opinions. Her father especially has a problem with the way Kate chooses to portray her mother, but he participates anyway because he wants to help his daughter. I identified more with the father and I actually found myself getting increasing angry with Kate's selfish behavior as the play went on, but she was dealing with her grief in the way she knew how and her character rings true.

The cast excels at playing non-actors, with stilted line readings and nervous mannerisms, but Boland steals the show in a scene where he is supposed to act out his last words to his wife and breaks down when he can't remember the lines.

The play goes off on many tangents that sometimes last too long, like a game show "Wheel of Cancer," but the play is at its best when the characters are just talking to each other and not "acting."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stewart, Knight, and Pepe Prepare For Theatre


On Tuesday, one of the producers of A Life In The Theatre, Jeffrey Richards, held a meet and greet for bloggers with Patrick Stewart, T.R. Knight, and director Neil Pepe (a longtime Mamet collaborator). The event was held at the rooftop bar at Hurley's after a last-minute venue change. Though it's a nice place to gather on a warm evening, the setup made it difficult to hear the questions and answers.

A Life In The Theatre is about the relationship between two theater actors, the older and experienced Robert (Stewart) and newcomer John (Knight). Neil Pepe calls the play a "love letter to theater."

It's fitting that Stewart and Knight star, as they share a love for the theater. Before Stewart became known for Star Trek, he was an actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stewart says, "All I ever wanted to be was a stage actor. Everything else that happened to me was an accident." Before Knight made headlines in a Grey's Anatomy controversy, he was doing repertory theater in Minneapolis.

This is the Broadway premiere for a Life in The Theatre. It debuted in Chicago in 1977 and ran off-Broadway that same year. So why now for its Broadway debut? Pepe says that especially now in this age of technology, it's a reminder of what's wonderful about theater. "It's always a good time to do a great play. I can see it being done decades from now," Stewart adds. And as Knight points out, "How ridiculous people can be never changes."

A Life In The Theatre starts previews on September 21 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fringe Encore Series: Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical

In all honesty, I had no intention of seeing Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical. The title annoyed me and the plot description sounded pretentious, but positive word of mouth spread and when an extension was announced for the Fringe Encore Series, I decided to check it out after all, and I'm glad I did.

The musical focuses on the part of the story when female dinosaurs started to become male due to the frog DNA that was used in their creation. It is told from point of view of the dinosaurs and Morgan Freeman (Lee Seymour) narrates. If you're thinking that Freeman wasn't in Jurassic Park, you're right, but his presence is explained and works in the the context of the story.

Written by Emma Barash, Bryce Norbitz, Marshall Pailet, and Stephen Wargo, the show is often silly, but unlike many shows in the same vein, it actually has something to say, taking a smart look at identity. Fans of the movie will enjoy the references (though where was Jeff Goldblum?). Though musical theater fans will get a kick out of the spoofing of the genre, the writers again successfully wrote a score that stands on its own. Kyle Mullins's choreography effectively mimics the movement of dinosaurs. The cast is vocally excellent and nails the comedic timing. Seymour doesn't do a traditional Morgan Freeman impersonation, but is particularly entertaining with his stoic delivery. Kudos to director Marshall Pailet and the entire creative team for taking this concept and running with it to create a tight, 70-minute musical that is entertaining from start to finish.

Remaining performances are Sept. 17 at 9:30 p.m. and Sept. 18 at 10:30 p.m. at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Camp Rock 2 or How I Learned To Like The Jonas Brothers

As you may be aware if you've ever met me or read my blog, I watch a lot of Disney Channel. I try to never miss a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) even though they have disappointed me in the past couple of years. The first Camp Rock was awful, so I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't hate Camp Rock 2, and was even more surprised that this had to do with the Jonas Brothers.

I've always written off the Jonas Brothers, but while I was watching this movie, I realized that I kind of like them (they had much more presence in this film than the first one). I'm still not crazy about their music, but I do respect them as musicians. They can't act, but they have an ability to poke fun at themselves (in one scene, Kevin Jonas's character tells his campers that if they want to be a lead singer, they need to wear tighter pants and learn how to play the tambourine).

In the only realistic part of the film, Nick Jonas's character Nate acts like a typical awkward teen who doesn't know how to talk to the girl he is interested in. When he finally opens up to her (this part is less realistic), he sings an adorable number, "Introducing Me." With lyrics like, "I like to use the word dude as a noun or an adverb or an adjective," it is smarter than standard tween fare.

I'm not saying that any of this takes away from the fact that the rest of the movie has laughable choreography, cheesy lines, and an over-the-top slow motion sequence, but the presence of the Jonas Brothers makes this movie slightly more bearable than any of the High School Musicals.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

FRINGE: when last we flew

Tony Kushner is lucky to be getting such a touching homage to his masterpiece Angels in America in Harrison David Rivers's when last we flew. Rivers clearly loves the play and isn't trying to rewrite it. The play takes place in Kansas and there are no characters dying from AIDS or closeted Mormons. At a little under 2 hours, it's not the epic that Angels is. It does, however, remind us of the power of literature.

The central characters are two African-American high school students. Paul (Jon-Michael Reese) reads Angels in America obsessively. As he struggles with his sexuality and deals with the feelings of alienation brought on by his father leaving, he finds solace in the play as well as his bathroom--the only room in his house with a lock. Natalie (Rory Lipede--remember that name) is an exceptional student who gets kicked out of her private school when she realizes that she wants to stand up for injustice. Rivers uses imagery and lines from Angels in America to invoke a similar feeling of fantasy. My guess is that a knowledge of the play isn't required to be moved by when last we flew, but I wonder how someone unfamiliar with Angels would take scenes such as Natalie crash landing into Paul's bathroom.

The young actors come across much stronger than the adults, especially Lipede, who is such a magnetic performer that the play seems to lose something whenever she isn't onstage. Reese effectively plays Paul with a nervous edge and Christopher Larkin sweetly plays Paul's best friend Ian.

Rivers has the ability to write humorous as well as poignant dialogue and I'd like to see what he can do when writing a piece not so heavily influenced by someone else.

Remaining performances are Fri 27 at 9:45 and Sun 29 at 2:30 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

If you are interested in other stories about artists who have been inspired by Angels in America, read Signature Theatre's blog.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

FRINGE: Getting Even With Shakespeare

For a play about Shakespeare, there are an awful lot of Beckett jokes. Though Matt Saldarelli's Getting Even With Shakespeare primarily deals with the playwright in the title, no one is safe in this hilarious madcap comedy which references everything from Star Wars to Pirandello.

The play takes place in a bar where Shakespearean tragic heroes hang out in between shows (whenever their plays are performed anywhere in the world, they have to be there). Josh Odsess-Rubin is appropriately douchey as Hamlet, Patrick Pizzolorusso is the comedic standout as the angry Macbeth, John D'Arcangelo is the pitiful King Lear, Amanda Tudesco channels Blair Waldorf as the Upper East Side princess Juliet (the only character that has conformed to the times), and Ben Holmes is an adorably innocent Romeo. The bartender is an actress known as Ophelia #482, played delightfully as an airhead by Kelsey Formost. How these Ophelias come to be at this bar is never explained, but no matter--disbelief has to be suspended to enjoy this play.

Lawyer Matt Saldarelli (Greg Ayers) stumbles into the bar one night and wants to be part of the exclusive club. The requirements are that you have to be a character in a play (he was--in a college play that he wrote), you have to drink pig's blood (he obliges), and you have to exact revenge on William Shakespeare. Saldarelli decides to do this by writing a play.

The real Saldarelli clearly had a lot of fun writing Getting Even With Shakespeare and the audience has just as much fun watching. The best moments are when the fictional characters talk amongst themselves (the play opens with Hamlet and Macbeth discussing who had it worse). I could do with less of the fictional Saldarelli. The play gets off on one too many self-indulgent tangents, but even so, theater nerds are sure to get a kick out of this play.

Remaining performances are Wed 25 at 7:30 and Fri 27 at 7 at the Players Theatre.

Monday, August 23, 2010

FRINGE: Veritas

There is no doubt that Stan Richardson's Veritas, which sold out its entire run before the Fringe Festival even began, is the hit of the festival. So, is it worth the hype? Well, it needs some work, but mostly, the answer is yes.

In 1920, Cyril Wilcox, a student at Harvard University, committed suicide at his home. His brother, Lester (an intense Doug Kreeger), discovered letters sent to Cyril implicating his classmates in homosexual activities. "The Court" was formed by the president and dean of the university to interrogate the students. The play offers its version of these events. This disturbing period in Harvard's history was only uncovered in 2002. It's an important story that deserves to be told. The writing is quite powerful, effectively using repetition and greek chorus style where the actors often speak at once. The use of music and Shakespeare monologues make this a lovely production (directed by Ryan J. Davis), but the downside is that the play is a little too artsy and it would be hard to connect to the characters were it not for the cast of talented up-and-comers. Sam Underwood deserves particular recognition as the shy and awkward Joseph Lumbard, one of only two to be deemed not guilty and allowed to return to the school, but Justin Blanchard, Paul Downs Colaizzo, Mitch Dean, Morgan Karr, Eric Nelsen, Matt Steiner, Jesse Swenson, Joseph Yeargain, and Kreeger deserve recognition for their fine work humanizing the play.

Veritas loses its footing a bit at the end. A dream-like scene in which Lester is playing a game show at the end of his life is very out of place with its humorous and surreal tone as is the epilogue in which the characters break the fourth wall. Sometimes, Richardson and Davis could trust the story more rather than relying on these devices, but this is a very promising first run and I expect to see an even stronger production in the near future.

Remaining performances are Tue 24 at 4:15, Thu 26 at 3:30, Fri 27 at 5:15, and Sat 28 at 8 at HERE Arts Center. Performances are sold out, but there is a cancellation line.

FRINGE: I Don < 3 U Ne Mor

If you see one musical at Fringe this year, make it the endlessly fun I Don < 3 U NE Mor, with music by Frank Grullon and Cathy Thomas and lyrics by Daren Taylor. With its tight book (also Taylor) and John Hurley's fast-paced direction that never drags, this fully realized production could transfer with very little editing, a rarity for Fringe.

The musical begins with "Out of Service/Out of Touch," a number with colorful costumes and dance moves (courtesy of choreographer Curtis LeMoine) that look like a parody of High School Musical. The dancers repeatedly stop mid-song to answer their cell phones, which is a smart set-up to a show about the dangers of technology. Ron (Dewy Caddell) and Sam (Elise Link) are about to lose their jobs as archivists for an Internet company after a merger leads to the creation of Verizon Micronet unless they can come up with a new job position. In the midst of trying to save his job, Ron is also trying to win over the girl of his dreams, Daliya (Felicia Hudson), who doesn't know he is alive until Ron's roommate Nic (Cameron Leighton Kirkpatrick) introduces him to the power of cell phones, texting, and My Facester.

Let's be honest--this isn't the type of show that will change your life. The musical isn't earth-shattering in its opinions of technology, but that doesn't make songs like "The Internet Makes Stalking OK" any less true or funny. The score is lively, the cast is fully committed and nails the comedic timing, and the show is unapologetic in its silliness. What more could you want out of a 90-minute evening?

Remaining performances are Tue 24 at 9:30, Wed 25 at 12:45, Fri 27 at 2:15, and Sat 28 at 9:45 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

FRINGE: Together This Time

Together This Time is like a City of Angels for literature instead of film. Scenes are split between a novelist's life and the characters in his novel, sometimes overlapping. There is a fundamental problem, though, that makes it impossible for the show to work. The story our protagonist is writing sounds so dumb that I cannot imagine why anyone would want to read it.

Jay Allen Jones (Jonathan Whitton) was a successful writer in New York City, but he moved to Colorado to get away from it all. He has spent the last four years working on a novel about two 18-year-olds in love, Jamie Gower (Andrew Redlawsk) and Gillian Wilder (Emily Olson). His girlfriend and editor Emily (Tro Shaw) wants to move back to the city, so she leaves him, and he follows her, winning her back through his novel. Emily is apparently an in-demand editor (as we learn through the song "Can You Help Me With My Book?") and Jay is a critical darling, so why would they be spending all their time on a book where nothing much happens except that Jamie and Emily leave home to start a life together and then come back home but this time it will be different because they will be in their own apartment.

The rock score by Andrew Heyman is repetitive, but at least it's performed by a live and very capable band. The lyrics by Heyman and Zac Kline (who also wrote the book) sometimes offer a spark of what this show could have been, such as when Emily sings about falling in love with Phillip Roth at the age of 12. The actors all seem to be directed by Troy Miller to clutch their chests and fists as if every song is a life or death situation, which would be distracting in any case, but seems especially out of place when the stakes really aren't that high.

Remaining performances are Mon 23 at 1 and Thu 26 at 4:30 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

FRINGE: Have A Nice Life

For a show called Have A Nice Life presented by Nice People Theatre Company (the most adorable name for a theatre company ever), the characters are not very nice. I wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes hanging out with any of them, but spending 90 minutes watching them is not so bad.

The show takes place during a group therapy session led by Patrick (Benjamin Michael). Jackie (Amy Acchione) brings her new best friend Amy (Miriam White), who she met only three hours earlier, to join the session. Each character gets a song or two, but we never get to know much about them beyond their basic problems, which are pretty familiar (mommy and daddy issues, etc.). Book writer Matthew Hurt often brings up topics but doesn't explore them, such as when it is mentioned that the macho Frank (Gregg Pica) might be gay. I suppose this is realistic in that not everything can be addressed and dealt with in one group session, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Composer and lyricist Conor Mitchell borrows too frequently from others. Several numbers sound like lesser Sondheim and there is a song that Barbara (Nicole Paloux) sings about writing hate mail that is reminiscent of "The Cell Block Tango" from Chicago. Still, a new musical with conventional musical theater songs is appreciated and the voices of the cast are among the best I've heard at a Fringe musical this year. Nancy Berman Kantra's choreography, especially when the actors dance with umbrellas for a cute number about how romance has changed, is the highlight of the show.

There are no Fringe performances remaining for Have A Nice Life.

FRINGE: Hamlettes

Going into Hamlettes, I expected a light comedy about 12-year-old girls staging Hamlet (this is not the first time I've been misled by a Fringe blurb), but the show was unexpectedly dark, and was all the better for it.

Alex (Alexandra Bassett) is given a book of Shakespeare plays for her birthday and falls in love with the play Hamlet. When Chloe (Savannah Clement) performs a Claudius monologue in class, Alex asks her to form a drama club. They decide to stage Hamlet with Alex in the title role and Chloe as everyone else. When Chloe decides she can't play Ophelia because she doesn't relate to her, they cast the shy new girl, conveniently named Ophelia (Lauren Weinberg). Up until this point, the play is very funny due to Patrick Shaw's ability to write realistic dialogue for 12-year-old girls who think they know a lot more than they do. Once the girls decide to never drop character, themes of betrayal and sexual awakening are introduced. Because pre-pubescent girls already deal with these emotions, the fact that they would get so caught up in a play like Hamlet makes so much sense that it's a wonder no one has thought of it before Shaw, but luckily he also has a capable director, Lillian Meredith, to execute his ideas. The actors are all very believable as teenage girls and Weinberg is the standout with her heartbreaking performance.

The show still needs a little work--some of the scenes felt a little muddled towards the end--but it already will have a future life (it's being staged in Chicago). Perhaps in the future it could be performed for all girls schools, which would be very compelling and educational.

Remaining performances are Tue 24 at 9, Wed 25 at 4:15, and Sat 28 at 7:15 at The Cherry Pit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

FRINGE: Richard 3

Let's get this out of the way. Richard 3 is misleadingly billed as a punk rock musical, but most of the music by Mike Fabano does not fit the punk description. Although there is a band onstage, the songs are often sung a cappella. This is not to say that the music, which has a haunting quality, doesn't fit the show, it does, but if I'm promised a punk rock Richard III, I want to see a punk rock Richard III.

James Presson's reimagining of Shakespeare's play takes place after World War III. The show actually owes a greater debt to Spring Awakening than American Idiot, by having characters speak Shakespeare's words and then using modern language when at the microphone. There is not much in the production to suggest a nuclear wasteland, but the look of the show, which is more punk than the music, provided by Marissa Parkes costume design and Rebecca Zoltoski's make-up, is quite polished, as is Cory Asinofsky's fight choreography. The 18-person cast is the largest I've seen at Fringe. Though the young cast is uneven, Jake Ahlquist is a revelation as Richard, capturing the qualities that make him both alluring and frightening.

Tonight was the final scheduled performance, but I suspect we'll see more of this show, either in the Fringe Encore series or another production down the line.

FRINGE: William and the Tradesmen

If you want to spend an evening with Morrissey, Joe Strummer, and Paul Weller, look no further than William and the Tradesmen. All three are channeled to remarkable accuracy by Eli James, who also wrote the one-man show.

The three British musicians are Will Bray's idols. Will imagines them guiding him in his quest to be a successful musician, even though his band never shows up for gigs. James has a nerdy appeal as Bray and his Morrissey is particularly brilliant. The songs are well-written, but not so exceptional that you can't see why Will has never had his big break. As both a theater nerd and an Anglophile, I especially appreciated "The Second Song Is An I Want Song."

When the biggest misstep in Francesco Campari's production is that the show opens with Eli James miming typing on a computer when maddeningly there is a laptop on his bed just a few feet away, you know the show is in good shape.

The final performance is Wed Aug 25 at 7 p.m. at The Club at LaMaMa.

Friday, August 20, 2010

FRINGE: The Beatitudes

The final performance of Eidolon Ballet's The Beatitudes is tonight at 8 p.m. at Dixon Place. I recommend trying to make room for it in your Fringe schedule. At only 35 minutes, it can easily fit in between two other shows.

The dance piece begins with Ray (Jerry "Chip" Scuderi) serving in WWII and follows his journey as he returns to New York, discovers the Beat Generation, heads west, and eventually returns home. The dance is set to jazz music as well as readings by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. I don't claim to be a dance critic, but to these eyes, the dance set to spoken word is particularly engaging because it enhances the poetry of the language. The choreography by Melanie Cortier is lovely, if at times repetitive. Scuderi, Maureen Duke (as his girlfriend Alvah), Alfredo Solivan (as his best friend Dean), A. Temple Kemezis (as Maggie), and the rest of the company are captivating.

According to the press packet, Eidolon is dedicated to make dance more accessible to the community at large. With accessible pieces like this one, they are succeeding.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

FRINGE: Feed The Monster

Feed The Monster starts off strong when Rita Emerson (Stephanie Ehrlich) takes the stage to perform the title song by Ehrlich, who also wrote the show, and composer Jim Keyes. She channels a psychedelic rock goddess and for that moment, it feels as though we've been transported to the 70s, but unfortunately, the rest of the show is a little dull in comparison.

Rita is playing a farewell concert for the fictitious The Village Vestibule, where she got her start as a folk singer in the 60s. The Club at La MaMa is the perfect venue for a show that takes place at a New York nightclub. She tells us about her Jewish upbringing in Brighton Beach, her beginnings as a folk singer, her move to San Francisco, and how she eventually found her way back to Brooklyn. Ehrlich is a likable narrator, but the humor often falls flat. She looks like a nice Jewish girl, so when Rita speaks about waiting for a man naked in bed, all 250 pounds of her (Ehrlich is not overweight), it's tough to believe. For a concert, she spends too much time talking and not enough time singing. Almost all the songs she performs are fragments, which is unfortunate, as she is at her most engaging when singing.

Remaining performances are Sun 22 at 5 and Thur 26 at 9:45 at The Club at La MaMa.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

FRINGE: Bunked!: A New Musical

Beware the buzzed-about Fringe show. It's impossible to guess how shows will fare until they begin performances and it's often the ones that sound best on paper that end up disappointing. Bunked!, a musical about summer camp counselors, sounds like a campy (pun only partially intended) good time, but the lack of dramatic tension makes for a tedious evening.

Each counselor is a stereotype: Anabel (Amanda Jane Cooper) the goody two shoes, her flamboyant twin Oliver (Tim Ehrlich), Carmen (Lizzie Klemperer) the bitch with a heart of gold underneath, Max (Jake Loewenthal) the boy with a secret, and Stewart (Ben Moss) the over-achiever who is sick of doing what his parents want. There are themes of summer romance and jealousy, but there isn't much of a story arc. In the opening song, "Best Summer Ever," Seth Sikes's direction is over-the-top, setting the audience up for silliness, but the show ends up being too sincere for its own good. When serious topics such as suicide are introduced, they feel forced, and the characters are too one-dimensional for us to care, as much as the hard-working cast tries. The most successful bits of the evening are the loudspeaker announcements provided by Michael Urie.

The songs by Alaina Kunin (book, lyrics) and Bradford Proctor (music, book, lyrics) do not propel the story enough to be necessary and though they are pleasantly tuneful, they all sound alike.

The show is sponsored by LogoTV and the quickly resolved plot points would lend themselves to a YouTube series, which seems like a logical step for this show, rather than another production.

Remaining performances are Fri 20 at 4:15, Sat 21 at 2:15, Sun 22 at 8, and Wed 25 at 10:45 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FRINGE: Pigeons, Knishes, and Rockettes

Cynical theatergoers should probably avoid Diana Rissetto's Pigeons, Knishes, and Rockettes, but those who smile at the thought of Christmas cookies and cry every year during It's a Wonderful Life (full disclosure: I am in the latter category) may be unable to resist the charms of this romantic comedy.

Eve (Julia Arazi) is a bubbly romantic who knits scarves and is obsessed with Christmas. She is used to being overshadowed by her tall and attractive best friends/roommates, Georgia (Kristin Muri), a Rockette, and Cherokee (Matthew Waterson), an actor who, as you might expect, is gay. Then she meets Peter (Carl Howell), a jazz singer with a Christmas album who hates the holiday, but actually notices her.

Arazi and Howell are believably awkward in their courtship, providing some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. At the Fringe, with its avant-garde shows, it's refreshing to see a wholesome love story. Costume designer Lisa Renee Jordan and sound designer Jay Spriggs provide the knitwear and Christmas music that contribute to that winter coziness, even on a muggy August night.

Remaining performances are Wed 18 at 3:45, Fri 20 at 2, and Tue 24 at 4:30 at The Cherry Pit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Midtown International Theatre Festival

With so many theater festivals and outdoor Shakespeare, New Yorkers and tourists have plenty of options for summer theater. It can be overwhelming to keep track of everything and within each festival, it can be hard to narrow down what to see. The Midtown International Theatre Festival, now in its 11th year, offers 61 productions and free readings in eight genres (The Melting Pot, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Off the Mortal Coil, The Art of the Con, Isn't It Bromantic?, Remember My Name, From the Pages of History, and GRRRL Power!). This weekend, I attended two of those shows--The Gospel According to Josh and Lovers: A Bold New Musical (an advantage to theater scheduling is that you can often make a day of it and knock out a bunch of shows at once)--both playing through August 1.

The Gospel According to Josh is Josh Rivedal's one-man show (directed by Josh Gaboian) about his religious Baptist upbringing and his desire to be a star. The conflict is a bit forced--in the first scene, Rivedal recalls being spanked with a belt by his father, but it was also his father who was largely responsible for Rivedal's love of music. With an easygoing voice and manner similar to Jeff Anderson who played Randal in Clerks and the ability to morph into various characters, Rivedal is an engaging performer and the 75 minutes fly by.

Lovers is a two-hander with book, music, and lyrics by Christopher Massimine and directed by Christopher M. Czyz. Chip (Will Taylor) has just killed himself and left a note and package for his girlfriend/fiance of 8 years, Jolie (Courtney Hammond). It's hard not to call to mind The Last Five Years while watching the story of their relationship unfold. According to his bio, Lovers is Massimine's first major production. He shows much promise as a songwriter, but there is still room for growth. Some of the lyrics are smart, but a few are cringeworthy. There are some moments of originality, such as the story of their courtship, but the mysterious package is an unnecessary gimmick. The intermission comes at a very awkward place (some audience members were confused as to whether the show had ended) and the show feels overlong at 2 hours, but with some work, it could have a future life.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cold As Ice

The Ice Factory Festival is the last chance for New Yorkers to see a show at the Ohio Theatre before it sadly closes its doors on August 31. For those looking to cool off and drawn to the title Ice Factory, it should be noted that the performance I attended of Hater (the third of six plays presented) last night was a little too warm for comfort, but paper fans were provided on every seat. Ice could apply, however, to the characters in the play, a new translation of Moliere's The Misanthrope by Samuel Buggeln.

Though the play still takes place in 17th-century Paris, the language is modern and the names have been updated. Alex (Nick Dillenburg) hates everyone and everything except Celine (Zoë Winters), even though she represents the qualities (phoniness, backstabbing) he despises most in society. He is jealous of her many suitors, but blind to the other women who are in love with him.

Strobe lights by Dans Maree Sheehan and choreography by Robin Carrigan (backed by Subvader's beats) suggest a club-like atmosphere in between scenes, but they don't aid the storytelling process and feel extraneous.

The cast as a whole is capable, but only a few performances stand out. Aysan Celik as Celine's frenemy Alison and Noah Weisberg as Alex's friend Phil excel in the humor department--her with facial expressions and him with physicality. It is Merritt Wever in the smaller role of Celine's cousin Liane that impresses the most. She is the most natural on stage and brings a needed humanity to the play.

Hater plays nightly at 7 through July 24.
Photo credit: Krissie Fullerton

Friday, July 16, 2010

Good Morning America(n Idiot)

I can't take credit for the title of this post--it was taken from a cute sign that somebody had this morning at the American Idiot performance in Central Park, part of Good Morning America's Summer Concert Series.

They performed two mash-ups--"Boulevard of Broken Dreams/Holiday" and "Letterbomb/American Idiot"--as well as "Good Riddance." This was a smart move as most of the actors had a chance to be featured and the portions of the songs not suitable for television could easily be cut. All in all a morning well spent. I don't claim to be a great photographer, but here are a few of the photos I took:


The stage


The band shows up


Rehearsing some of the dance moves


Michael Esper, John Gallgher, Jr., and Stark Sands looking happy


I couldn't get a good shot of Tony Vincent, but he had to wear his St. Jimmy costume and make-up and was barely on camera, so someone should see it.


This picture seems very Jesus of Suburbia-esque


Rebecca Naomi Jones, rocking it out


Action shot

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eyes Look Your Last...


When RENT closed in 2008, I wrote a blog post about how much it meant to me. I did the same for Spring Awakening and Avenue Q, so I couldn't let one of my favorite productions close today without a tribute of some kind.

In September 2007, the Public Theater announced a three-night only 40th anniversary concert of Hair. I was in California at the time, having recently finished graduated school and still figuring out my next move, and was bummed that I had to miss it. Fortunately, by the time the Public announced a full production in Central Park for the summer of 2008, I was already living in New York, and my mom and sister were determined to come visit me so we could all see it together.

They came during previews, so the reviews hadn't come out yet, but because we had never done Shakespeare in the Park before, we cautiously arrived at 5 or 5:30 a.m. and ended up being one of the first people in line. A few hours later, I had to go to work, and they stayed until 1 to get the tickets. They ended up getting 2nd row seats--they were on the side, but that hardly mattered to us. We all love the music and would often listen to the original cast recording together, but my sister and I had never seen a production of the show. Though my mother saw it in Buenos Aires (in Spanish!), she didn't remember it too well and felt like she was seeing it for the first time as well. Throughout the show, we kept hitting each other at our favorite songs, not believing we were seeing it live, in such a beautiful setting. We were blown away by the talent on that stage. I never expected to be so moved by the show, but the ending was heartbreaking. After the bows, we of course joined the dance party. My mom and I were dancing and we somehow lost my sister in the crowd, but at the end of the dance party, she found us, excited and out of breath, informing us that she had just danced with Jonathan Groff (her idol). Seeing her happiness was just icing on the cake for us.

I've seen Hair many times (some would say too many) since then, in the park and on Broadway, but nothing will ever top seeing it for the first time. It's hard to explain why this show means so much to me without getting too personal, but some of my other favorite memories include seeing the closing night performance at the Delacorte, seeing swing and future star Jay Armstrong Johnson's Claude, and seeing it again with my mom and sister on Broadway (that time, the drummer gave my mom his drumsticks at the dance party).

It's unfortunate that the show couldn't last longer on Broadway, but it had a successful run, considering so many thought it would be a mistake to bring it to Broadway. Though I am sorry for those losing their jobs, I don't think the closing is a sad occasion. I know I'll be seeing the cast in many shows in the future. Everybody involved should be proud of all they've accomplished, not just with the production itself, but everything they've done to support marriage equality and other causes they believe in. And this isn't the end of Hair--a national tour is in the works and a book will be out in the fall (full disclosure: my friend wrote it and I helped out with some editing, but I'm telling you honestly, he's a great writer). There's only one way to end this post. LOVE!

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

This Family Dinner Is Only Mildly Appetizing

I'm not sure what it says about Michele Willens's new play, Family Dinner, that I left the theater not thinking about the story I had just seen, but wondering whether they had to pay for the rights to use two Beatles songs and several Bob Dylan and Beach Boys songs. If they did, how they could afford it?

Family Dinner is playing at The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row through July 3. The first act takes place in Santa Monica in 1963 at the home of the Wells family. Jane (Nancy Nagrant) is the submissive housewife who gave up the violin for her family. Howard (Willaim Broderick) is the strict father who drinks too much. Alex (Rick Desloge) is the oldest--a poetic soul who longs for attention. Johnny (Marshall Pailet) is the baseball star, the golden child. Maggie (Lily Corvo) is the youngest, who idealizes Johnny and used to be one of the boys, but now would prefer to be Ann-Margret. These characters probably sound familiar because we've seen their kind before. But what is there to say about a family in 1963 that we haven't seen before in movies, TV shows, and plays?

The second act takes place in 2002 at the New York City home of Maggie (Nagran), now in a struggling marriage of her own and the mother of two. Her daughter's graduation brings about a reunion for the family (except for Howard, now dead). As the family tries to deal with the issues that have been repressed for so long, again, we feel that we've seen it before. Still, at two hours, the play moves along quickly.

A play with such stock characters requires a strong cast to transcend the material. Sadly, most members of the cast seemed uncomfortable in their roles. The grown-up versions of the children aren't similar enough in mannerisms to feel like the same characters. Only Corvo manages to have any real spark on the stage.

One positive about watching other families onstage is that it can make you appreciate your own family. And at least Family Dinner offers a pleasant soundtrack while doing so.

Monday, June 14, 2010

If Anyone Still Cares (Post Tony Thoughts)

If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Memphis would win best musical, I'd have said you were crazy, but by the time the Tonys rolled around, it was the front runner. I think it's a strong production of a mediocre show and the fact that it swept just shows what a weak year it was. It was the safe choice, but I didn't think any of the musicals (even my favorite of the four, American Idiot) were completely deserving. Here are some general thoughts about the night:

Host:
Sean Hayes was charming and funny, just as he is in Promises, Promises. My favorite bit was when he dressed as Spider-Man and sang "Don't Rain on My Parade."

Performances:
Lea Michele stole the show with "Don't Rain On My Parade." They should just give her the role in Funny Girl now. It was kind of random to have Matt Morrison sang "All I Need Is The Girl," but he was terrific too. Too bad those performances won't sell tickets to anything. Was it just me or did the camera love Matt Morrison? There were so many shots of him throughout the night. I also enjoyed Green Day and American Idiot. When Memphis performed, my mom, who has not seen the show, said, "I thought this was supposed to be rock and roll music." The opening number this year was a slight improvement over last year, with those random pairings like Stockard Channing and Aaron Tveit, but I don't like montages. Also, having the winning show perform at the end was such a letdown after Neil Patrick Harris's performance last year. Why didn't Finian's Rainbow perform? Ragtime did, but couldn't they have at least let Christianne Noll sing all of "Back to Before"?

Awards:
The biggest surprise for me was Scarlett Johansson winning best featured actress in a play. I thought Jan Maxwell would get it for sure, especially since she wasn't going to win lead. I liked Scarlett Johannsen just fine, but I was really pulling for Maxwell. I happiest for Eddie Redmayne, who made a stunning Broadway debut in Red (he was up against another of my favorite debuts of the year, Jon Michael Hill in Superior Donuts) and Red. What I don't get is all the La Cage love. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't blown away. What was I missing?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Memories of Patrick Lee

Yesterday, I was shocked to hear that Patrick Lee, the blogger behind Just Shows to Go You and a writer for TheaterMania, had passed away. He was only 51.

I didn't know him too well, but I have some fond memories of him. We were in the Independent Theater Bloggers Association (ITBA) together. The first time I had an extended conversation with him was when we sat near each other at F#@king Up Everything at NYMF. After the show, we both agreed that this particular show was the best we'd seen so far at NYMF. I really valued his opinion, and it was nice that we agreed. It was always a treat to run into him at shows.

My favorite memory of Patrick was just a little over a month ago when a few of us bloggers met up for brunch to discuss nominations for our ITBA nominations (Patrick was the awards director). I'm so glad I attended because I had a great time discussing shows with my fellow bloggers, especially Patrick, who was hilarious, but still on task and very dedicated to making the awards as fair as possible.

In addition to our conversations, I was a regular reader of his theater blog for its well-written criticism and insightful interviews. He will be missed.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

It's Almost The Big Night

One of the biggest nights of the year for theater fans is Tony night. If you're in New York and can't afford to make it to the event itself, BroadwaySpace is hosting a more affordable option at Blondie's. Twenty-five dollars gets you unlimited food and soda. The party will be hosted by Hair's Annaleigh Ashford and Kyle Riabko. My main concern about a big event like this is that it will be too loud to hear the awards, which is what I really care about, but there will also be a quiet viewing room, so it sounds like all the bases will be covered. Click here for more information and to RSVP. So, how will you be spending Tony night?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Metal Children @ The Vineyard

Instead of reading this review, I suggest you stop what you're doing and buy tickets to The Metal Children at The Vineyard. You have until June 13 to see Adam Rapp's (he also directs) thought-provoking play about censorship of young adult (YA) literature.
Tobin Falmouth (Billy Crudup) is the author of The Metal Children, a YA novel about the disappearance of pregnant teenage girls who are then replaced with statues. When the book is banned from a classroom in Midlothia, Tobin is invited to the town by Stacey Kinsella (an adorably bumbling Connor Barrett), the teacher responsible for assigning the book.

Although the play stems from Rapp's own experiences with the banning of his novel The Buffalo Tree, he does not take sides. On the one hand, the actions of some of the zealots in the town are disturbing, but Falmouth is no saint either. And the fact is that the book is influencing many of the girls to get pregnant, modeling themselves after the heroine. The often surprising play even manages to pull of some touching moments. Falmouth is suffering after the departure of his wife, and Crudup plays him with a humanity that makes you sympathize with him, even while condemning some of his actions. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent.

Last year, David Korins created one of my favorite sets for Why Torture is Wrong, and he again impresses here in the way the deceptively simple set constantly shifts to reveal other pieces.

The Metal Children won't leave you with easy answers about the power of art and the responsibility of the artist, but at least it raises the questions.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

Friday, May 21, 2010

Welcome To New York, Mitzi

Mitzi Gaynor certainly gave them the old razzle dazzle in her New York City debut on Tuesday night. The legend, most famous for playing Ensign Nellie Forbush in the South Pacific film, is now appearing at Feinstein's through May 29 in "Razzle Dazzle! My Life Behind The Sequins."

After a video montage (there are several of these throughout the evening, highlighting her career, and they are all entertaining), Gaynor appeared, looking adorable in a sailor outfit. As you might guess, her first song was "Honey Bun." Her voice isn't in top condition and there were sound problems on the night I attended, but her charisma more than made up for it. Switching into a new Bob Mackie gown, each more stunning than the last, between every few songs, she does not look her 78 years, and she can still move. She also proves to be quite feisty, not afraid to tell a dirty story or two. For any fan of old Hollywood, her stories alone are worth the price of admission. For all her humor, there are some genuinely moving moments, such as when she speaks about her late husband. I was also impressed by the variation in her set list, of course singing some South Pacific favorites, but also a newer showtune, "Show Off" from The Drowsy Chaperone, and closing with Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine of My Life."

Now that Gaynor has a taste for New York, let's hope she performs here often. If you do attend the show, and I recommend that you do, note that it does not take place in the regular Feinstein's venue, but in the larger ballroom across the hall.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

ITBA Awards Announcement



Though I don't agree with all the winners, once again, I'm proud of my fellow bloggers. I'm also happy for some of my favorites of the season like Red, Yank!, A Boy And His Soul, and American Idiot. If you don't feel like watching the video, here is the complete list of winners:

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY PLAY
Red

OUTSTANDING BROADWAY PLAY REVIVAL
A View From The Bridge

OUTSTANDING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL
American Idiot

OUTSTANDING BROADWAY MUSICAL REVIVAL
La Cage Aux Folles

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY PLAY
Circle Mirror Transformation

OUTSTANDING NEW OFF-BROADWAY MUSICAL
Yank!

OUTSTANDING OFF-BROADWAY REVIVAL
The Glass Menagerie

OUTSTANDING OFF-OFF BROADWAY SHOW
Viral

OUTSTANDING SOLO SHOW
A Boy And His Soul

OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
Circle Mirror Transformation

CITATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE BY INDIVIDUAL PERFORMERS
Nina Arianda, Venus In Fur
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Desiree Burch, The Soup Show
Rebecca Comtois, Viral
Viola Davis, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Douglas Hodge, La Cage Aux Folles
Sarah Lemp, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side & Happy In The Poorhouse
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family & Lend Me A Tenor
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime & Yank!
Amy Lynn Stewart, Viral

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is It Comedy?

If there is one lesson to be learned from That Face, it is never to bill a show that deals with an Oedipal relationship and torture, among other things, as a comedy. At the talkback I attended after the show, many audience members felt misled by the mailers describing the show as such (so much so, that they kept bringing it up, even after it had already been discussed). The marketing department might think about calling it a dark comedy, but even that might be a stretch, since there was little laughter at the performance I attended (from what I've heard, it played more like a comedy in England).

That Face, now open through June 27, comes to MTC Stage 1 at City Center from a run at The Royal Court in London. Polly Stenham, who wrote the play at the age of 19, is lucky to receive a strong production directed by Sarah Benson and featuring an excellent cast. Though she shows promise, she borrows too heavily from Tennessee Williams.

The show begins with two schoolgirls torturing a classmate after one of them, Mia (Cristin Milioti), gave her an overdose of Valium. The girls are suspended, forcing Mia's father, Hugh (Victor Slezak), to return from Hong Kong to speak to the school on her behalf. Meanwhile, her brother, Henry (Christopher Abbott), looks after their crazy mother, Martha (Laila Robins). The bulk of the play deals with the disturbing codependent relationship between mother and son. Though the writing is often absorbing, Stenham doesn't take this familiar scenario to new places, and I'm not convinced there was a compelling need for this play to be produced.

But since MTC did produce That Face, at least they've brought together a fine ensemble. Milioti manages to make Mia the most likable character, even after the horrible act she commits. Robins is appropriately unnerving. I've seen Abbott in a handful of shows and I keep saying this--keep an eye out for him. He's going to be big. If you're looking to see some fine performances, then by all means, check out That Face--just don't expect a comedy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hope For The New Musical

The Kid is a refreshing change from the lackluster new musicals on Broadway this season--it has a well-developed story, realistic characters, and a memorable original score. It's not without flaws, but it (along with other off-Broadway fare like Yank!, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Bloodsong of Love, and The Scottsboro Boys) is a reminder that the original non-jukebox musical still exists.

The Kid (music by Andy Monroe, lyrics by Jack Lechner, book by Michael Zam), based on Dan Savage's memoir, is playing at Theatre Row through May 29 (I'm hoping an extension is not out of the question). The always enjoyable Christopher Sieber plays Savage, who decides to adopt a baby with his boyfriend, Terry (Lucas Steele). The show traces the difficult adoption process. They are finally chosen by a homeless teenager, Melissa (Jeannine Frumess is heartbreaking in the role). Director Scott Elliott has a first-rate cast at his disposal. Steele and Sieber have believable chemistry and they both excel at the comedic and tender moments. Susan Blackwell is a standout in the supporting cast as a stern but caring adoption counselor.

Lately, I've been so used to seeing elaborate, realistic sets that the simplicity of the set by Derek McLane seemed jarring, but the few pieces of furniture are effectively used as are the windows to display animated backgrounds by Jeff Scher and videos of those seeking advice from Savage's column.

Though there is a lot of sex talk, The Kid is in many ways a traditional book musical. It is not overtly political and it presents a realistic relationship between the two men. The musical has been criticized for this approach, but it manages to be inoffensive without losing its edge. Dan and Terry's courtship involves meeting in club bathroom and going home together. When Terry gets sick and ends up staying a few days, they bond in the clever love song "Gore Vidal."

Related Reading: New Gay Theater Has More Love Than Politics

Photo credit: Monique Carboni