Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lysistrata Jones: Is Fun Enough For Broadway?

Expectations can make all the difference in how you experience a show. I was expecting Bonnie and Clyde to be a disaster and I ended up liking it. I was all set for Lysistrata Jones to be my new favorite musical, and while I enjoyed myself, I left feeling disappointed. After a successful Transport Group run at the Gym at Judson this summer, Lysistrata Jones, which opened last night at the Walter Kerr Theatre, is now the lowest grossing show on Broadway. I am still rooting for it because I'd like to think that new musicals with no stars can succeed on Broadway, but as much as I want to tell you that I loved it, the best I can say is that it's a really fun show that could have used just a little more work.

If you took a sexed up High School Musical and combined it with Aristophanes' Lysistrata, you'd end up with Lysistrata Jones. Lyssie J (the always adorable Patti Murin) is a recent transfer student to Athens University. Her boyfriend Mick (Josh Segarra) is the team captain of the school basketball team, which hasn't won a game in 30 years. Lyssie forms a cheerleading squad with the other girlfriends of the basketball players, but when that fails to inspire them, feminist Robin (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) introduces her to Lysistrata (via Spark Notes). Lyssie convinces the other girls not to "give it up" until they win a game.

For all of the hilarity and originality of Douglas Carter Beane's book (and there is a lot of it), there are also some cheap laughs in the form of stereotypical characters that have been seen in countless teen movies. And while there is some great raunchy humor, the material is surprisingly safe. Lewis Flinn's score is appropriately poppy. Director Dan Knechtges's basketball choreography is a highlight of the show as is an absolutely charming dance performed by Jason Tam as nerdy activist Xander. Tam brought audiences to tears as Paul in A Chorus Line and here gets a chance to show that he is a gifted physical comedian as well. The young cast is talented and energetic and seem to be having a ball, but there are only 12 of them, leaving the stage feeling a bit empty.

As much as I like to think that there's room for everything on Broadway, some shows are better suited to smaller spaces. Lysistrata Jones could have probably done well in an off-Broadway commercial run. Is it too late for a transfer to New World Stages?

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Confession: I Enjoyed Bonnie & Clyde

Bonnie & Clyde wasn't everything that I wanted it to be, but I was entertained, I saw some great performers, and I was introduced to a memorable new Broadway score. That's more than I can say for many shows I've seen on Broadway. It certainly isn't the train wreck that some of the reviews make it out to be.

The musical Bonnie & Clyde--not based on the 1967 Arthur Penn movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway--claims to be the most accurate telling of the story of bank robbers Bonnie Parker (Laura Osnes) and Clyde Barrow (Jeremy Jordan). The show starts off with a literal bang as the couple is shot to death in their car. At a talkback after, director Jeff Calhoun explained that he wanted to get that iconic image out of the way at the beginning to be able to tell the story without everyone waiting for that moment, which was a smart decision. From there, the show limps a bit as we have to put up with seeing Bonnie and Clyde as children (played by Talon Ackerman and Kelsey Fowler) dreaming big dreams. One thing the show gets right is that even though it explains how Bonnie and Clyde became killers--Clyde was driven to his first murder after being raped and beaten in prison--it doesn't try to justify or glorify their actions. The show paints them as celebrity driven from the beginning. Unfortunately because of all of this backstory, Ivan Menchell's book lacks a lot of the excitement you'd expect from a show about outlaws.

Jeff Calhoun's direction combined with the visual elements overcome a lot of the book problems. Aaron Rhyne's projections show images of the real Bonnie and Clyde and the depression era which add historic context. This is most compelling when mug shots are taken of characters on stage and the real mug shots are projected. And Frank Wildhorn's gospel and country-infused score is unlike anything he's ever done. It's catchy and at times quite lovely (just don't pay too much attention to Don Black's lyrics) and performed by the powerful voices of current Broadway It Boy Jordan and Osnes, who would probably be the sexiest on-stage couple on Broadway right now if not for Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy in Venus in Fur. Claybourne Elder is appealing as Clyde's loyal brother Buck, but is underused. One of the best discoveries of the show is Melissa van der Schyff as Buck's wife Blanche--the most fascinating character in both the movie and the musical, even though van der Schyff makes the role her own (she has never seen the film).

Tickets to Bonnie & Clyde are only being sold through December 30 even though the show hasn't announced a closing notice (which seems like a terrible strategy, but I digress), so if you don't want to miss it, go now. You might find yourself being pleasantly surprised.

As I mentioned, after the show, we attended a talkback with Calhoun, scenic and costume designer Tobin Ost, Elder and van der Schyff. One of my favorite tidbits (aside from Calhoun honestly acknowledging how unfair he thought the reviews were) was that there was a song called "This Has Never Happened Before" about Clyde's impotence, but when they learned that the plot point was invented for the movie, they cut it. I hope to one day hear that song.

Later, Elder and van der Schyff ended up at our table, charming us with their Michael Crawford impressions. Elder told us about "Bits O' Buck"--a mason jar where he keeps the blood and brains that he scrapes off himself before curtain call (see a picture he tweeted here) And then Elder showed us a video that changed all our lives: "I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper" starring Phantom of the Opera's own Sarah Brightman. Watch it now. Your life will never be the same.

Photo credit: Nathan Johnson

Mamma Mia!: How Can I Resist You

In my lifetime, only two shows have played Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre, Cats (fun fact: Cats opened the month I was born) and Mamma Mia! Since I hadn't seen Cats until long after it had closed on Broadway and I'd only seen Mamma Mia! in its pre-Broadway Los Angeles run in 2001 and in London in 2003, the Winter Garden was the one hurdle keeping me from my goal of seeing a show in every current Broadway house. So when I got an invitation to a Mamma Mia! blogger night, I had to go check the Winter Garden off my list and of course, see how the show is doing after 10 years on Broadway.

Before the show, we were also invited to Two Boots to try out the new Mamma Mia! pizza--sopressata and sweet Italian sausage with red pepper pesto on a white pie. I don't eat meat, so I enjoyed a cheese slice, but the meat-eaters seemed to enjoy The Mamma Mia.

As for the show, you probably already know whether or not you're going to like it, depending on how you feel about ABBA music and jukebox musicals. I am in more in the "you already know you're going to love it" (the tagline of the show) camp. Look, it's not life-changing theater, but it is fun theater. It's escapist theater. It would also make for a good bachelorette party as it is about a wedding (plus, it has guys dancing in no shirts and scuba gear).

Mamma Mia! is about a young woman's quest to find her father before she gets married. On an island in Greece, 20-year-old bride-to-be Sophie (Liana Hunt) has never known who her father is, but she finds an old diary belonging to her mother Donna (Lisa Brescia) and figures out that she has three potential fathers. She invites them all to the wedding.

The best thing about the show is the way the ABBA songs are integrated into the plot. For example, when Donna's best friends are comforting her and they break out into "Chiquita." I enjoyed the show more the first time I saw it because of the element of surprise, but I still think it's a cleverly put-together show (Catherine Johnson wrote the book connecting the songs by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus). I recently saw Jersey Boys again (also my first time seeing it on Broadway) and I think that has held up better, maybe because the costumes, sets, and dialogue aren't as cheesy, but it also hasn't been around as long.

If you've never seen the show or have been thinking of revisiting, Mamma Mia! is having its first ever winter sale. Every orchestra seat is $49 to $79 from January 9 to March 4, but you must purchase by December 24 (last minute Christmas or Chanukah gift, anyone?). Click here for full details.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Contest: Last Chance For Follies Tickets!

Update: The contest is now closed and the winner has been contacted. The winner was picked at random from all the entries. Thank you to everybody who entered.

Follies, currently playing at the Marquis on Broadway, must end on January 22. If you've been putting off seeing it, you're running out of time. But I have some good news, Follies fans. Since the last Follies contest was so popular, I have a final pair of tickets to give away.

To be entered to win tickets, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry). If you enter this way, you must be following me on Twitter to win. If you don't have a Twitter account, you can leave a comment here telling me why you want to win tickets. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. The contest will end on Friday, December 9 at 3 p.m. Good luck!

Special discount offer through December 25 only!

$97 Orch/Front Mezz (reg. $137) $74 (reg. $87) Mid Mezz

Click Here and enter code 3NEDEB

Call Ticketmaster at: 877-250-2929 and mention code 3NEDEB

Visit The Marquis Theater box office (46th between Broadway and 8th ave)

*Restrictions and blackout dates may apply.

Review: The Cherry Orchard at CSC

Earlier this season, John Turturro directed the mostly forgettable Relatively Speaking on Broadway, but there is nothing forgettable about his performance as Lopakhin in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Classic Stage Company. There is a moment when he breaks out in manic dance alone that perfectly captures Lopakhin, forever socially awkward.

For those unfamiliar with the play, a widow, Ranevskaya (an equally captivating Dianne Wiest), returns to her home in Russia after being away for years in France. She has fallen into debt and is soon to lose her estate and cherry orchard in an auction. Lopakhin, a wealthy merchant from poor beginnings, tries to convince her to cut down the cherry orchard and divide the land into lots to be leased out for summer cottages.

Translated by John Christopher Jones and directed by Andrei Belgrader, this Cherry Orchard is fast and funny, accessible and modern, clocking in at only two hours and 15 minutes including intermission. Though it highlights the comedic elements (Chechov did intend the play as a comedy), the suffering of the characters is not lost, thanks to some fine performances. Take Juliet Rylance, who plays Ranevskaya's daughter and housekeeper Varya. Rylance makes Varya's longing for Lopakhin, who everyone says she should marry though he never asks, palpable. Alvin Epstein as the old footman Fiers perhaps most exemplifies the dualities of the play--the comedy and heartbreak--as he shuffles across the stage muttering to himself.

The one misstep is the decision to break the fourth wall (usually done by Carlotta, the governess, played by Roberta Maxwell). It doesn't add anything to the production, which is already intimate enough without having to make the audience a part of it.

Photo credit: Carol Rosegg