Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Q & A With Cait Doyle

Cait Doyle is the star and creator (she co-wrote the libretto with her sister, Meggie Doyle) of the cabaret act Hot Mess in Manhattan, which attempts to answer the question, "If Sex and the City lied, then what's to become of a Hot Mess in Manhattan?" Doyle won the 2009 Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs (MAC) award for best female debut. Now her show is being turned into a 90-minute "high-heeled, low-brow" musical comedy. Its two-week developmental production, directed by David Ruttura, will run from August 30 to September 8 at the American Theater of Actors. Check out the Q&A to learn more about the show, find out what makes someone a "hot mess," and more.

Q: How did the idea for Hot Mess In Manhattan come about?
A: Hot Mess in Manhattan: The Musical is a realistic portrayal of the "single gal in the big city." As a bartender, I would meet so many women new to the city in tears, all lamenting that city life was not what Sex and the City, Friends, etc. told them it would be. I had been auditioning aimlessly at the time and it occurred to me it would just be easier for me to write my own show--after all, my life is like Carrie Bradshaw's, except way more realistic and a hell of a lot funnier.

Q: How is the musical version different than the cabaret act?
A: The cabaret was me singing these 12 incredible new songs written for the show and setting them up with ever-changing pieces of stand up comedy reflecting on whatever was happening to me/on my mind that month, i.e. "The Bridesmaid Mess" or "The Hip-Hop Mess" or "The Economic Downturn Mess." The musical version, however, is exactly as it sounds. I do break the fourth wall at times to talk to the audience, but for the most part it is a fully staged, choreographed story. There are two additional actors (DJ Bucciarelli and Jared Zirilli) who play a variety of other characters in the story: creepy Craigslist roommate, her gay best friend, etc.

Q: A lot of big up-and-coming composers [Ryan Scott Oliver, Adam Gwon, Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, etc.] contributed music to the show. How did everybody get involved?
A: That was a real life lesson in that it never hurts to ask for things! Worst thing that can happen is that someone says 'no' to you. These musical theater writers are at the top of their game and I could not be any more fortunate.

Q: What makes someone a "hot mess"?
A: I don't think anyone is ever permanently a "hot mess," but we all have "hot mess" moments. From my personal collection, you know you're a hot mess if:
  • You ran into your gym right before closing time not to exercise, but solely to shower before going back out for the night, and then the gym closes and you are locked in for the night.
  • At a Broadway level callback in the middle of a song your pianist stops accompanying you--you are missing a page of sheet music.
  • The night before you put a huge crack in a jukebox because you were violently angry that "the best Kelly Clarkson song ever" was not listed. You refuse to believe this until you are shown many pictures and videos of you in the aftermath, hugging said jukebox and apologizing to it.

Q: Why should audiences come see your show?
A: This show is for anyone that's ever intensely loved NYC yet felt they weren't quite sure where they fit inside of it. It's also, in my extremely non-biased opinion, one of the funniest things ever written for the stage. At an 85-minute run time, it's the great type of show to hit before having a night out on the town. Or to just head back home after to wear pjs, eat italian ice, and watch reality TV.

Q: Favorite place in the city to...
A: The Watering Hole
A: Bar Americain
A: my friends' closets
go on a first date?  
A: Theater or the movies (So we have something to talk about if you are super boring!)

Q: What's your go-to karaoke song?  
A: Cee-Lo's "Forget You"

Q: What's your drink of choice?
A: Vodka Gimlet

For $13 tickets ($5 off), use the discount code PataphysicalMESS. Tickets are available here. This discount is only good through the 25th.

And check out the video preview below:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Broadway (And Off) On A Budget

Summer is almost over (sob), but on the plus side, as the tourists leave the city, the theater discounts start piling up. Here are some deals to be on the lookout for:

Today is the release of the 22nd Season of Savings booklet, which was created in response to the effect September 11 had on Broadway ticket sales and is released twice per year. It features discounts to Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

Broadway Week's 2-for-1 tickets also go on sale today for performances from September 4 to 16. And during off-Broadway's 20 at 20, from September 4 to 23, you can get $20 tickets for select shows 20 minutes before curtain.

For those who prefer free theater tickets, Season of Savings is also running a contest on Facebook. At the end of each week in September, a winner will be chosen at random to receive tickets to a show and dinner for 2 at Tony's Di Napoli. The grand prize winner will receive the "ultimate theater weekend," which includes tickets to 3 shows, dinner at Tony's Di Napoli, hotel accommodations, and a Broadway gift bag. You can enter the contest here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

FRINGE: Help Jane Austen Write the Next Big Young Adult Novel!

If you've ever wanted to be a part of a young adult focus group, then the entertaining improv show Help Jane Austen Write the Next Big Young Adult Novel! might be for you. The concept was thought up by Danielle Staubitz, who also plays Jane Austen. Austen's literary agent (Ian Murphy) wants her to write a hip new book that will appeal to teenagers (think The Hunger Games or Twilight).

With the help of the intern (Kate Hamill), ideas are collected from the focus group (audience) and when a whole plot is sketched out, Austen, the agent, and the intern act out the book. It would have been nice to get more reactions from Austen other than an occasional mention of characters writing letters and other Austen tropes. Overall it felt like Austen's name was used to draw an audience, but the show could just have easily been Help Write the Next Big Young Adult Novel!. Still, the show is great fun. Hamill is delightful and convincing as the eager intern who uses the word "sexy" a lot. Murphy is hilarious, especially in the dance battle (part of the novel my audience came up with).

Remaining performances are Wednesday, August 22 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, August 25 at 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, August 26 at 2 p.m. at the Studio at Cherry Lane.

FRINGE: Standby--The Musical

I tend to choose Fringe shows based on the titles. I was drawn to Standby because I've spent a lot of time in airports waiting on standby and I thought it would be a musical comedy about that experience (musicals have been written about stranger things). It turns out Standby is a very serious musical in which (and I don't think this is a spoiler because it is revealed very early on in the show) the travelers have all committed suicide and are waiting to see if they can get on a flight to heaven (or somewhere else). Basically, it's a cross between the film Wristcutters: A Love Story and the musical Happiness (in that case the dead passengers were on a subway car).
From left: Seth Blum, Jillian Gottlieb, Matthew Corr,
Ashley Picciallo, and Mike Backes
Photo credit: Brian Camarao
It is admirable that the creative team (Keith Robinson and Amy Baer wrote the music and Alfred Solis and Mark-Eugene Garcia wrote the book and lyrics) have tackled such an ambitious subject matter. Unfortunately, the results are unoriginal and predictable. But the potential for this musical comes through in a solid pop rock score and convincing performances all around. Jillian Gottlieb as Samantha, who lost her family in a car crash, and Matthw Corr as Andrew, who worked in a wedding dress shop and feared no one would ever love him, were particularly moving. Michael-Anthony Souza as Peter is a vocal standout, picking up the energy up in his two rousing numbers.

Remaining performances: Wednesday, August 22 at 5 p.m. and Thursday, August 23 at 7 p.m. at the Players Theatre

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

FRINGE: The Hills Are Alive!

From the premiere at the Westchester Square Arts Festival in May
Photo credit: Lorah Haskins
I don't know how it's August--it feels like it was just the 2011 Fringe Festival, but here we are again. First up on my Fringe agenda: The Hills Are Alive!

I love The Sound of Music (I mean, obviously). I don't know how many times I've watched it in my life, but it's probably a ridiculously high number. And I'm guessing that the creators of The Hills Are Alive!, Frankie Johnson (lyricist and bookwriter) and Eric Thomas Johnson (composer and music director) have seen the film just as many times, which is why they're able to parody it so well.

If you recall, The Sound of Music ends with the Von Trapp family in the Alps, having just escaped the Nazis. The Hills Are Alive! picks up from there, with the "Von Klapp" family making their way through the Alps, trying to get to Switzerland.

The characters all have similar personalities and functions to their film counterparts. There's the cute one little Gerty (Frankie Johnson, doing quadruple duty since she also directs), sweet Magda (Daniele Hager, the vocal standout) who everyone forgets about, precocious Bettina (Katie Bland) who is always paired with Ludwiga (Skylar Saltz) although they're nothing alike, effeminate Knut (Becky Whitcomb), and the two oldest, the bickering Felix (Christopher Tiernan) and Lotte (Maggie Wetzel). The cast do an admirable job of channeling the film actors, especially Ashley Ball as Fraulein Mathilde, who accurately mimics Julie Andrews's enunciation when teaching the children how to sing.

The show is a little longer than it needs to be. Act two starts to become repetitive, but it picks up during the authentic dream ballet. The songs were written to serve similar functions as those in the movie. For example, "Goodbye Austria" is in the vein of "So Long, Farewell," complete with similar choreography and Kurt/Knut's high note on "goodbye." Though it's a spoof, it's so lovingly done, that any Sound of Music devotee is sure to enjoy.

Remaining performances: Sunday, August 19 at 1 p.m. and Friday, August 24 at 9 p.m.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Revisiting War Horse

Photo credit: Paul Kolnik
I had a chance to revisit War Horse last week, a little over a year since seeing it for the first time. Some of the cast may have changed, but my feelings about the show remain the same: awed by the puppetry, meh on the play.

War Horse is based on a children's book by Michael Morpurgo. Albert (Andrew Durand) lives on his family's farm in Devon, England. At the start of World War I, his father Ted (Andy Murray) sells his beloved horse Joey to the cavalry and Albert runs away to France to find him.

The play, adapted by Nick Stafford, is at times slow and the characters are not very fully drawn out. But the stagecraft makes up for it. Directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have made each scene a work of absolute beauty. And those puppets (created by Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company). The horses are every bit as majestic and lifelike as real horses, even though the puppeteers are visible. Every puppeteer deserves mentioning for conveying so much emotion through the horses, sometimes more than even the human actors. At the performance I attended, they were: Hunter Canning, David Pegram, and Hannah Sloat (Joey as a foal); Alex Hoeffler, Jeslyn Kelly, and Enrico D. Wey (adult Joey); Leah Hofmann, Tom Lee (also stealing the show as the goose, the comic relief), and Isaac Woofter (Topthorn, the other main horse); and Toby Billowitz, Joel Reuben Ganz, Nat McIntyre, and Tommy Schrider (other horses).

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Molly, You In Danger Girl!

The same day it was announced that Ghost The Musical would be closing on August 18, I saw the show for a second time as part of a blogger night. Yes, I willingly went to Ghost twice. Because here's the thing: I really enjoy it. A lot of it has to do with expectations. I think director Matthew Warchus's other Broadway-bound musical Matilda is overall the better show, but I had such high expectations for Matilda that I was ultimately disappointed, whereas Ghost pleasantly surprised me.
Photo credit: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

If you're familiar with the movie Ghost, you know the story--screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin also wrote the book. Sam (Richard Fleeshman) and Molly (Caissie Levy) are in love, even though Sam has trouble saying the words. When Sam is murdered, he becomes a ghost who nobody can see except the medium Oda Mae Brown (Da'Vine Joy Randolph). He enlists her help to keep Molly out of danger and to find his murderer.

For every forgettable number in the score by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard (e.g. "I'm Outta Here," meant to be a show-stopper sung by Oda Mae, but is unnecessary and slows down the action), there is a solid pop song, such as "Here Right Now." And for those wondering, "Unchained Melody" shows up a few times, most adorably when Sam plays it to Molly on the guitar to cheer her up.

But let's get to the real reason to see the show--the illusions (by Paul Kieve). The special effects were more impressive than anything at Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark (Sam walks through a door!). Still, the projections could have been toned down (my sister described the show as "special effects diarrhea"). The dancing would have been enough without video of dancers behind the actual ensemble.

Ghost is sometimes cheesy, sometimes ridiculous, but it's hard to criticize the show for the reasons I had a good time. There was a touching story there that got lost in the sensory overload, but it was a step in the blending of new technology and storytelling that other shows may be able to build on in the future.