Thursday, August 29, 2013


Hey all. I know you enjoy contests, so I wanted to let you know that my friends at Seasons of Savings are running a contest every Wednesday for the run of the program. It's called Win it Wednesdays and you can win a pair of tickets to participating shows and drinks for two at Inc Lounge. For more information and to enter, visit Facebook.

Season of Savings is a special-edition Playbill with tons of discounts to Broadway and off-Broadway shows, restaurants, and more. Participating shows this year include Annie, Big Fish, Chicago, A Christmas Story, Cinderella, First Date, and more.

While we're on the subject, check back on Tuesday for a contest for tickets to an upcoming Broadway show.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Bluest Drink: Q&A with Max Friedman and Charlie Rosen

If you're reading this blog, you're probably a Sondheim fan. (If not, why are you reading a theater blog? Did you think it was a science blog? If so, I apologize). Anyway, this Monday, August 26, at 10 p.m. at (le) poisson rouge, there is going to be a multimedia revue of Stephen Sondheim called The Bluest Ink. Everyone involved in the show is under 25 years old (way to make me feel like an underachiever). It stars Kasie Gasparini, Will Roland, Ariella Serur, and Keith White and there will be projections with animation by Ilana Schwartz. The show was conceived and directed by Max Friedman, who is also a director and producer of Charlie Rosen's Broadway Big Band, which frequently plays at 54 Below. The Charlie Rosen of the big band is also the arranger for The Bluest Ink. You might remember him from The Craze, the band in One Man Two Guvnors. I sat down with Friedman and Rosen to learn more about the show.

Q: How did you get the idea for the show?
Friedman: Well, in high school, many of us did love Sondheim and in exploring some of his lesser known material I discovered the show Saturday Night and loved that it was a show about young people in their early 20s in New York City even though it was set in the 1920s, I loved the energy of that show and I loved the song "What More Do I Need." I realized that a lot of Sondheim material deals with young people problems. And also a lot of them could be really contemporized to tell today's stories, millennial stories, and as I got into my 20s, it became clearer and clearer to me that there was a show there and a couple of new stories to tell using that material.

Q: Can you talk about any of the songs that you're going to use in the show?
Friedman: Kind of. Without giving too much away, there are songs in the show from Merrily We Roll Along and Company, both of which deal with like we said New York City and somewhat young people and things that they face. There's also songs that are a little bit of a blank canvas like unproduced films, songs from Evening Primrose which people don't know as well what the meaning of them is even if the songs are really well known as is the case with "I Remember," which lends the show its title.

Q: What do you think gives millennials a unique perspective?
Friedman: I think people who have come of age in this time period, we've been inundated with a crazy amount of technology. I don't remember ever not having a cell phone or Facebook. That's really unique and that's something we explore a little bit in the show. Not so much Facebook, but cell phones and instant gratification and instant communication are really millennial ideas and almost values in a way that we're exploring in this show. Digital misconception--how easy it is to take a text out of context.
Rosen: Music-wise we're using contemporary jazz. I personally think that jazz is a very New York and metropolitan genre in general. But what it's become by being played also by kids in there 20s that study it and how that's different than more traditional sounding jazz. You can use complex Sondheim harmony in that genre but still be modern with it.
Friedman: When I heard jazz, I thought it might sound stuffy, but I'm dazzled with how contemporary and dynamic Charlie's arrangements are.

Q: Are there other musical theater composers that you think would benefit from this kind of presentation?
Rosen: Cole Porter.
Friedman: I mean we haven't given a ton of thought to doing a show like this with other composers, but we do do a lot of contemporizing of Broadway in our other long-term project which Charlie can talk a little bit more about.
Rosen: It's called Charlie Rosen's Broadway Big Band. It's a 17-piece jazz orchestra. It's had kind of a residency of 54 Below. We take old and we turn it to new and we have a rotating line-up of Broadway stars. Or sometimes we take new and we make it sound traditional in a cool way as well.
Friedman: Yeah, we love playing with the classic Broadway sound and how it relates to modern sounds that you hear on the radio and just playing the two back and forth. I think there is something really genius about the way Charlie is able to navigate classic and modern and bridge them together and make them feel like you can't tell the difference.

Q: What do you attribute your success at such a young age to?
Rosen: A combination of enthusiasm, professionalism, and hours of practice and trial-and-error.
Friedman: And not being afraid to take on big projects at a young age. We really are self-starters on every project we've done together. We just felt like we really had a show here and really had something to say with it and so we booked a date and just did it. That's the biggest thing that got our foot in the door.
Rosen: Just do it.
Friedman: Just do it. And also not being told that you're too young to do anything. I certainly have not been told that and if somebody did tell me that, I really wouldn't listen because I know that we're not.
Rosen: Don't half-ass it.
Friedman: Absolutely and don't be afraid to make a big mistake if you're also not going to be afraid to capitalize on the opportunity that comes with every mistake.

Q: How did the animator get involved?
Rosen: The animator is a friend of mine from a performing arts camp that I went to... I've been writing film scores to her animations for the past three years.
Friedman: When I pitched the show to Charlie, I mentioned that my dream was to have it be integrated with animations of New York City that felt really new and not Hirschfeld-y at all. Not that I don't love Hirschfeld. I just wanted something that's a unique voice. The new headline on this article is "Bluest Ink Director Hates Al Hirschfeld." I love Al Hirschfeld. I almost got the Ethel Merman tattooed on my body. But I didn't.

Q: Do you have a favorite Sondheim song and/or show?
Friedman: My favorite Sondheim show is Merrily We Roll Along. Although that's largely because I feel like it applies to my life on such a crazy daily basis. My favorite Sondheim song is... I love "Finishing the Hat" a lot. I love "Opening Doors" a lot. I think "So Many People" is a really undervalued Sondheim ballad. I love Sondheim at his most economic as much as I love him at his most grandiose. And my favorite Sondheim book is "Night Music." Wabam [editor's note: I don't know how to spell this] Hugh Wheeler.
Rosen: I don't have anywhere close to that detailed of an answer. Nor do I have an answer at all maybe. I agree with you on Merrily because of right now what we're doing, I'd have to go with Merrily.
Friedman: There's a little Frank and Charley in both of us. And a lot of Gussie in me.

Q: So I really like themed drinks at shows. If your show had a themed drink, what would it be called and what would be in it?
Rosen: The Bluest Drink.
Friedman: The Bluest Drink Isn't Really Sky. But I would say that it would be The Bluest Ink Manhattan. That it would be Maker's Mark Bourbon with blue curacao instead of sweet vermouth and I think it would just turn either the most beautiful shade of blue you've ever seen in your life or it would be really muddy and gross. I'm actually rethinking this. But I'm thinking The Bluest Ink Manhattan would be right. Definitely a lot of bourbon. A lot of bourbon has gone into the creation of The Bluest Ink.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fringe Review: Not Another Teen Solo Show

I feel like Rati Gupta and I could be friends. She speaks in references to '90s teen movies, a language I am fluent in. And even if you aren't familiar with the films, while watching her show, Not Another Teen Solo Show, it's easy to feel like you're already friends with her. She constantly exclaims, "You guys!" like you're besties and she has the coolest story to tell you.

Gupta grew up in Indiana, an Indian girl at a Catholic private school. She wanted her life to be like the teen movies, which taught her that the secret to being popular was to be the perfect combination of cheerleader, slut, and bitch. Gupta is an engaging storyteller. During her costume changes (no costume designer is listed so I'm not sure if Gupta picked out the outfits herself, but they are perfect for each scene), there are short videos (directed and produced by John Wynn and Kurt Anderson of Punching Bees Productions) that spoof movies like Bring It On and Cruel Intentions.

If you've ever put a lot of thought about your AIM away message, this show is probably for you. Oh and Rati, if you're reading this, I'm up for a teen movie marathon any time.

There is one remaining performance of Not Another Teen Solo Show on Thursday August 22 at 2:00 p.m.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shakespeare and Rock Concerts at The Fringe Festival

One of the nice things about the Fringe Festival listings is that it includes run times. I think I speak for many when I say I'm more willing to take a chance on a show if it's not too long. I think I chose well for my first day of Fringe shows with two short, entertaining shows: Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick) with a run time of one hour and Lollapacoacharoozastock Music Festival with a run time of 45 minutes.

I was drawn to Double Heart because it's a prequel to Much Ado About Nothing about Beatrice and Benedick as teenagers. If there are two things I love it's Shakespeare and teen romance. The play by David Hansen was originally commissioned by Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland as a free touring production that would support the main stage production of Much Ado. In this plausible backstory, Benedick (James Rankin) and Beatrice (Emily Pucell), skilled at verbal sparring even then, become fast friends, but their attraction is too strong to ignore. They sleep together and she ends up getting pregnant. I won't give away the rest, but it's not a happy ending, thought if you know Much Ado, you can comfort yourself with thoughts of what's in store for them.

Props to Hansen for writing the play, which includes conversations about one-night stands and abortions, in verse. Not that anyone today can write quite like Shakespeare, but Hansen does a commendable job of capturing the spirit of these characters. Hansen and Annie Hickey play the other roles, which are sometimes unnecessary and drag down the story. It would almost work as a two-hander. Rankin and Pucell both have a natural presence and convincing chemistry. One of the highlights is a simple, wordless scene in which the two dance and you can see them fall in love.

Remaining performances for Double Heart are Wednesday August 14 at 8:30, Thursday August 15 at 7:00, and Saturday August 17 at noon.

While Double Heart takes its inspiration from Shakespeare, Lollapacoacharoozastock Music Festival takes its from the music charts. As the name implies, the show takes place at a mock music festival. There are four acts: teen pop stars Eli Porter and Destyn Reign, country group The Meadow Muffins, '90s alternative rock band Simon Never Said, and '80s hair band Plymyth Voyager. Adam Blotner wrote the book, music, and lyrics and fronts all four acts with his wife Jenny Pinzari Blotner. Musical director Matt Tobin on keyboard, Joe Headrick on drums, Daniel Namm on electric guitar, and Danny Weller on bass subtly change their dress between sets and are just as fun to watch, but, and this is more of a complaint about sound than the band, they sometimes drown out the lyrics, which is too bad because the ones I heard perfectly captured the genres they were spoofing. Take Simon Never Said's "Interesting Girl": "The girl is so ironic. It's like she does is opposite from the way that a normal person would do things. Isn't that interesting?" And I wouldn't be surprised to hear "Party in the Basement," sung by the Justin Bieber-like Eli Porter, on the top 40. The show ends with a parody of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" which would probably make Weird Al proud.

Remaining performances for Lollapacoacharoozastock Music Festival are Wednesday August 14 at 7:30, Saturday August 17 at 11:15, Friday August 23 at 2, and Saturday August 24 at 9.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Contest: Win Tickets to Romeo and Juliet

Update: The contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered. I love that there were so many different Shakespeare plays represented in your answers. The winner was picked at random from all the entries. Congratulations Liz!
Romeo and Juliet is coming back to Broadway for the first time since 1986 and I'm giving away a pair of tickets. The star-crossed lovers will be played by Orlando Bloom of Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings fame and two-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad. It starts previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on September 19 with an official opening of September 19. The production also stars Brent Carver as Friar Laurence, Jayne Houdeyshell as the Nurse, Chuck Cooper as Lord Capulet, and Christian Camargo as Mercutio. This will be a contemporary take which will retain Shakespeare's language.

The coolest thing about this production, in my opinion, is that $20 tickets will be available for each performance for college students and educators. College students can purchase $20 tickets in advance either at the box office with valid ID or online, exclusively through TIX4STUDENTS.COM. Limit of two tickets per order; price does not include facility fee. Educators may purchase $20 tickets in advance at the box office with valid ID. Educator tickets are only available for purchase at the box office. Limit of two tickets per order; price does not include facility fee.

In order to win a pair of tickets to see the show, leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite Shakespeare play and why. For an extra entry, tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it. You must be following on Twitter for the extra entry. A winner will be chosen at random from all the entries on Friday, August 16, at 5:30 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!