Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Kids Are Alright in Russian Transport

If you've been following this blog, you may know that I watch a lot of Disney Channel. Phil of the Future, which ran from 2004 to 2006, was not my favorite (although it seems like a masterpiece compared to some of the latest Disney Channel shows), but it starred the likable Ricky Ullman. As Raviv Ullman (his birth name), he is making his off-Broadway debut in Russian Transport by Erika Sheffer and directed by Scott Elliott. The play also stars Janeane Garofalo, but it was Ullman that was the big draw for me and if this play is remembered for anything, I hope its for launching his New York theater career. He and Sarah Steele (wonderful in Speech and Debate) give memorable turns in an intriguing, if ultimately unsatisfying play at The New Group.

Ullman plays Alex, a teenager growing up in Brooklyn with his Russian immigrant parents, Diana (Garofalo, at times over-the-top, but mostly balancing the comic relief and role as stern matriarch) and Misha (a quietly compelling Daniel Oreskes), and his 14-year-old sister Mira (Steele). Alex has to work a job at Verizon plus help out at his father's car service to help his family pay the bills. He also sells dime bags to earn a little cash for himself. When Diana's brother Boris (an appropriately menacing and alluring Morgan Spector) comes to stay, what starts off as a family dramedy becomes a story about the sex trade. Boris asks Alex to do some work for him, but when Alex realizes that work involves picking up innocent young girls from the airport (all played by Steele), he is torn between money and doing the right thing. Ullman and Steele convincingly portray obnoxious teenagers making bad decisions while getting at their vulnerability and fear. Sheffer has written some believable dialogue, especially between arguing teen siblings. She's also mixed Russian and English, usually effectively except in one scene between Diana and Boris. (Why would they be speaking English to each other and not Russian?) But though individual scenes are strong, they don't quite make a cohesive whole and the play ends on an unresolved note.

Photo credit: Monique Carboni

Monday, January 30, 2012

Contest: Win Tickets To How To Succeed... Now Starring Nick Jonas

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you so much to everyone who entered. I loved reading all your bow tie ideas. The winners were selected randomly from all the entries. Congratulations bbwithbickles and Ali!

Nick Jonas is the latest J. Pierrepont Finch in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the Hirschfeld Theatre. Though you may know him as 1/3 of the Jonas Brothers, he got his start in Broadway in shows like Beauty in the Beast and Les Misérables. I for one can't wait to see him. Check out how good he sounds in this clip from the show:

I am very excited to have two pairs of tickets to give away to the show, which also now stars Michael Urie as Bud Frump. In this revival, every Finch gets his own bow tie color (blue for Daniel Radcliffe, purple for Darren Criss, and green for Nick Jonas). So to be entered to win tickets, tell me in the comments which color bow tie you would want to wear if you were cast as Finch. Feel free to get creative--it doesn't have to be one of the three. For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it. (Only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry.) You must be following on Twitter to win. One winner will be chosen at random on Friday, February 3 at 6 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

And if you just can't wait until then to get tickets, here is a discount code for nearly 40% off:

Now through February 29 get $77 tickets (reg. $132) Orchestra/Front Mezz

Beginning March 1 through April 1 get $87 tickets (reg. $132) Orchestra/Front Mezz

Use code HSFAN105 at Broadwayoffers.com

*Restrictions and blackout dates may apply. Can not be combined with any offer. Offer may be revoked at anytime.

Finally, here is a super adorable video of Jonas and his family watching his billboard unveiling:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Two Ways to See Michael Esper and Bobby Steggert on the Cheap

Two of my favorite young actors, Michael Esper and Bobby Steggert, will be starring in Assistance at Playwrights Horizons starting on February 4. The satire about a group of young assistants also stars Sue Jean Kim, Virginia Kull, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, and Amy Rosoff. It is written by Leslye Headland and directed by Trip Cullman, whose previous collaboration was Bachelorette. I won't be reviewing the show for a few weeks yet, but I wanted to share two discount opportunities now because I know some of you will be wanting to see this.

If you are 30 and under, all tickets are $25 for the February 16 performance, followed by a 30 and under party. Use code PARTY and order here. Proof of age required at the door.

And here's a discount good for all ages:

Regular run: February 3-March 11
Tues 7, Wed-Fri at 8, Sat at 2:30 & 8, Sun at 2:30 & 7:30
Additional Monday evening perf February 27 at 7

Order by Feb. 21 and use the code HELPMEBLOG
$40 (reg. $70) for all performances Feb 3-19
$50 (reg. $70) for all other performances Feb 21-Mar 11

Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 Noon to 8PM daily
In Person: Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

Monday, January 23, 2012

Contest: Win Tickets To Godspell

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you so much to everyone who entered. The winner was selected randomly from all the entries. Congratulations Caryn! If you didn't win, I have another exciting contest coming up on Monday.

Prepare ye...to win some tickets to Godspell. The revival of the Stephen Schwartz musical is currently playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre. In honor of the new Tuesday Night Talkbacks featuring a different performer every week, I'm giving away a pair of tickets to see the show.

Tell me in the comments which Tuesday Night Talkback you'd most like to attend and why. (It can be one that already happened. The winner will be able to choose from a number of performances via voucher.) For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it. (Only one tweet or retweet will count for an extra entry.) You must be following on Twitter to win. One winner will be chosen at random on Friday, January 27 at 6 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Get Ready For Ghost The Musical

On Thursday night I got a sneak peek of Ghost The Musical at the Ghost Light Sessions. The event kicked off with a cocktail called "The Unchained Melody" made from Frozen Ghost Vodka (that's a real thing!), sweet and sour mix, blue curacao, and pineapple juice. I assume they will be selling these at the theater and if you don't mind girly/bright green drinks, I recommend.

We were then treated to some performances and introduced to the creative team. First up, stars Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy sang "Here Right Now." It's hard to really get a sense of the musical from out-of-context songs, but this was my favorite number of the evening. I also enjoyed hearing from book writer and lyricist Bruce Joel Rubin, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. One of the most famous lines in the movie is when Molly says, "I love you," and Sam answers with, "Ditto." It was interesting to hear that Rubin was reluctant about a musical because he thought it would be people just singing, "Ditto. Ditto. Ditto." He also explained that this line came from his personal life, since he had a hard time saying the words, "I love you."

Here are a few more photos from the event (by the way, my camera kind of sucks and there was a wire in our way, so I apologize for the quality of the pictures):
Music producer/arranger Glen Ballard and The Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, who wrote the score of the musical:
(from left to right) Director Matthew Warchus, Bryce Pinkham, who plays Carl Bruner, Fleeshman, Levy, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, who plays Oda Mae Brown, and one of the producers:
The reason I'm most interested in Ghost the Musical is the special effects, but that will have to wait until the show starts performances (previews begin March 15 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, officially opening on April 23). To see the Ghost Light Sessions for yourself, tune in on Facebook on Tuesday, January 24 at 9 a.m., 4:30 p.m., and 9 p.m. EST. In the meantime, check out the trailer:

A New Theater Festival

Times Square isn't usually the place for works that challenge the status quo, but that is the mission of the new Times Square International Festival at the Roy Arias Studios. The other part of the mission is to keep the shows affordable and ticket prices are $18 in advance, $20 at the door, and $12 for students and seniors.

Superman 2050 in Union Station, Chicago, IL, July 2011: Marc Frost, Lily Emerson, Thomas Kelly, Melissa Cameron, Brittany Bookbinder, Kathleen Wrinn, Becky McNamara
I only had a chance to see one of the 14 shows presented--a really fun show called Superman 2050 from Theater Un-Speak-Able in Chicago. Seven actors perform on a 3' by 7' platform. It takes place in Metropolis in the year 2050 and in addition to playing characters like Clark Kent (Marc Frost), Lois Lane (Kathleen Wrinn), Jimmy Olsen (Brittany Bookbinder), and Lex Luthor (Thomas Kelly), the actors also act as set and props.

The festival ends tomorrow, but if you don't have any Sunday plans, I encourage you to check it out (Superman 2050 has a show at 7 p.m.), or at least keep it on your radar for next year.

Photo credit: Photographer Max Dionne

Monday, January 16, 2012

On A Clear Day: What Went Wrong

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever will close on January 29, after 29 previews and 57 regular performances. The show opened at the St. James Theatre on December 11 to negative reviews. Having seen the show in previews, I wasn't surprised by the response, but over the summer, I was expecting it to be a highlight of the Broadway season. As a member of the Vineyard last season, I had the opportunity to see the promising lab production. But while I still loved a lot of the individual elements on Broadway, as a whole, the production just didn't work. So what changed? Basically, the lab worked because it felt more like a concert. The score (music by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner) is absolutely gorgeous, but once the show was fully staged, it kind of fell apart.

The show now takes place in the '70s instead of the '60s (the original opened on Broadway in 1965). In the revised story (Peter Parnell updated Alan Jay Lerner's book), Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick, Jr.) uses hypnosis to get David Gamble (David Turner) to quit smoking. While David is hypnotized, he starts speaking as his former self from a past life--female jazz singer Melinda Wells (star-to-be Jessie Mueller). The story is a still a bit muddled owing partly to the fact that David and Melinda are played by two separate people. When watching the lab production, I guess I figured that director Michael Mayer would somehow brilliantly solve all the issues, but the staging was clunky, and I think a lot of that had to do with the set. Mayer's creative team has done wonderful work by him in the past in shows like American Idiot and Spring Awakening, but here, they miss the mark, especially Christine Jones's optical illusion eyesore of a set (see photo), in which pieces of furniture would come on and off in the center of the stage, not allowing for much in the way of inventive staging.

In the workshop, Dr. Bruckner was played by Marc Kudisch, who seemed more comfortable in the role. Still, Connick sings like a dream and so does Mueller. Turner is delightful. I may have wanted more from On A Clear Day, but I appreciate that it was trying to push the envelope and would have liked to see it hold on a little longer. I hope it at least gets a cast recording so the best part of the show can be preserved.

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Introduction To Godspell

I've been really excited for Godspell basically since it was announced. Many of the cast members (Lindsay Mendez, Hunter Parrish, Nick Blaemire, etc.) have impressed me in other shows. I was fascinated by the People of Godspell and whether a community-produced Broadway musical could be a success for everyone involved. I love the show's social media campaign (see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly) and the idea of a backstage lottery. I think one reason I put off seeing it for so long (the show opened November 7 at the Circle in the Square Theatre) was that I was afraid I wouldn't actually like it (I'm somewhat of an anomaly among theater fans as I've never seen or been in Godspell). I was mostly right--Godspell just isn't my kind of show--but I'm glad I finally saw it and I'm glad it was this production.

Godspell premiered off-Broadway in 1971. The musical with a score by Stephen Schwartz is based on the Gospel of St. Matthew and was originally conceived by book-writer John-Michael Tebelak as a thesis project. The actors--dressed as hippie clowns--use their real names except for Jesus (Hunter Parrish in this production) and Judas and John the Baptist (Wallace Smith) and act out parables. After an introduction with the cast dressed in suits, talking on cell phones and carrying briefcases with names like "L. Ron Hubbard," the show becomes thrilling as Smith sings the a cappella opening of "Prepare Ye" and is joined by the band and cast. But the joy of that first number gives way to dizzying scenes (Daniel Goldstein directs) and dated and unfunny pop culture references. Audience members occasionally are asked to participate in games like Pictionary and charades. It may seem like this show would be up my alley since I was such a huge fan of Hair, but the audience participation in that show seemed a more natural fit, and with the Godspell update, it was unclear why they were acting like hippies. Also, I felt an emotional attachment to the story in Hair, whereas here, to be honest, I didn't know what was going on half the time. I'm sure a lot of it is because I'm Jewish and did not grow up with any of these stories.

It's almost like I was watching two shows. If most of the book scenes were cut out, I might have loved it. The music is infectious and this cast can sing, especially Lindsay Mendez and Uzo Aduba. Towards the end, the show takes a turn for the serious, and a curious thing happened, I started to like it. From Parrish's "Beautiful City" to the crucifixion, all that silliness gives way to something simple and lovely. As morbid as this may sound, I felt the show ended on a high note and I left the theater thinking more about the positive aspects of the production than the negative. I probably never need to see a production of Godspell again, but I'll continue to enjoy the other show--the new marketing strategies, such as the Tuesday Night Talkbacks announced this week, which will feature a different cast member each week speaking about their experience in the show from audition stories to nightly routines.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Contest: Win Tickets to Ionescopade!

Update: The contest is now closed. Thank you to everybody who entered. Congratulations Jerry!

I've been a fan of the York Theatre Company, which only produces musicals, since my first visit for a workshop of Yank! The latest York mainstage production is Ionescopade, A Musical Vaudeville, which premiered Off-Broadway in 1974 and presents a new look at the works of absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco (The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros, The Chairs, Exit the King). Music and lyrics are by Mildred Kayden.

To be entered to win a pair of tickets, tell me in the comments your favorite Ionesco play or the best production of an Ionesco play you've seen (if you're not familiar with his work, just tell me why you're interested in seeing the show). The winner will be chosen at random from the entries on Wednesday, January 18 at 5 p.m. Please include your e-mail address or Twitter handle in the comments so I have a way to contact you if you win. Good luck!

SPECIAL OFFER: $40.00 tickets (regularly $67.50)

TO REDEEM: 1. Visit YorkTheatre.org and mention code IONESCOHHC

2. CALL 212-935-5820 and mention code IONESCOHHC

RESTRICTIONS: * Offer not valid in conjunction with any other offer or on previously purchased tickets. Subject to availability and prior sale. All sales final. No refunds or exchanges. Offer may be revoked at any time. Blackout dates may apply. Valid for performances through February 12; buy by February 3.