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:

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."

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"?

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?