Monday, December 08, 2014

Broadway Magic

Whoever decided to include a Broadway stop on The Illusionists--Witness The Impossible tour is pretty smart. It's in town through January 4 and though it's not exactly a holiday show, it is sure to attract an international audience, especially with its location at the Marriott Marquis Theatre. And there is even snow.
The Illusionists is a group of seven charismatic magicians with very different talents and styles. They are Yu Ho-Jin (The Manipulator), Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjuror), Jeff Hobson (The Trickster), Andrew Basso (The Escapologist), Kevin James (The Inventor), Aaron Crow (The Warrior), and Adam Trent (The Futurist). 

After a bit of warming up from Trent, there is an overblown opening number with dance, smoke, costume changes, and a moving train. The problem is that audiences can see that kind of illusion in almost any Broadway musical. More impressive are the smaller, quieter moments, like 2014 Magician of the Year Ho-Jin's ability to make cards appear out of nowhere and change colors. It's the type of trick that makes you wonder, "How did he do that?" and isn't that what magic is all about?
Other highlights are Basso's escape from a tank of water while handcuffed and Sperry's manic technique while performing with birds and terrifying an audience member.

Yes, there is a lot of audience participation, especially in Hobson's and Trent's acts. Sometimes they ask for a volunteer and sometimes they choose, so no one is safe. But if you've always wanted to be in a Broadway show, this might be your chance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Q&A & Ice Cream With Josh Kaufman

This morning, I joined the new star of Pippin and winner of the sixth season of The Voice, Josh Kaufman, for the unveiling of the new "High-Flying Sundae" at Serendipity 3. It consists of three scoops of Neapolitan ice cream, hot fudge, raspberry sauce, sour rainbow ribbon candy, whipped cream, a circus swirl lollipop, and dark chocolate covered popcorn. I was particularly a fan of the popcorn and ice cream together.
The sundae in all its glory (glory).
When he's not in the show or doing promotional events like this one, Kaufman is working on his first single. After trying the sundae, he was nice enough to sit down with me for a few minutes before his two shows to talk about the journey from The Voice to Broadway.

Q: How did you go from a show geared toward getting a recording contract to doing theater?
A: Honestly, it was kind of a freak thing after the show. I was on The Voice tour over the summer and the guy who runs my website got in contact with me while I was on the tour and said, "Hey. You just got this message through the website about a Broadway show. I looked it up and it looks like it's for real, so you might want to get in contact with them." And it just happened that Bernie Telsey from Telsey + Company was at one of the live shows of The Voice and saw me there and got the idea to get in contact with me about this. It's not an avenue that people probably expected me to go down, but it's something that I've always been interested in and enjoyed, so when the opportunity came up, I thought I at least have to give it a shot.
Josh Kaufman, now playing Pippin on Broadway.
Q: Are you still in touch with any of the coaches from The Voice?
A: There is a guy who works really closely with Usher on all of his albums. He has sort of a musical director role in everything Usher does. He actually worked with him on The Voice. I do keep in contact with him and let them know what is going on with me. Usher had me come out over the summer to a dinner he had with his non-profit organization, Usher's New Look, in Atlanta. It's focused on education. It's a really good organization. I sang a song there. So, I've kept some contact, but obviously the guy's ridiculously busy. He's on tour right now.

Q: When you were going to do this, did you have to run it by them? Did you have obligations with the show besides the tour?
A: I did have the obligation to do the tour and really beyond that, everything flips over to the record label. I signed with Universal Music Group Republic Records and so it's more them that I have obligations to now. NBC and The Voice, I'm kind of finished with that. Everything shifts over to the record label, so I did have to make sure that this would all work because obviously I've signed a contract, so I have to make sure that there are no conflicts, but we were able to work all that out.

Q: Did you get to work much with Diane Paulus [the director] when you were preparing?
A: I did a lot of working in the studio with the stage manager and him reading lines and going through things with him, just the two of us. The day before my put-in, I had time with all of the principal actors and with Diane. She was real intense and would give any notes she could think of to give me as we'd go along, so it was a really good session, very helpful. 

Q: Is Broadway what you expected it to be?
A: That's a hard question because I don't know how many expectations I really had. It was more just go into it and figure it out and see what it is as I go. I saw the show and I knew what I would have to prepare for. I knew it would be a lot of work and a lot of time to put in. But I went into it pretty open-minded.

Pippin starring Josh Kaufman runs through January 4 at the Music Box Theatre.

Friday, November 07, 2014

A Strong Start to The New Group's 20th Anniversary Season

The New Group kicks off its 20th anniversary season (in its new space at the Pershing Square Signature Center) with the first major New York revival of David Rabe's disturbing 1971 play Sticks and Bones. Director Scott Elliott, the company's artistic director, does perhaps his finest work here (at least that I've seen) and has assembled the right ensemble of actors, led by Bill Pullman, who should probably star in at least one of The New Group's productions per season.
From left: Ben Schnetzer, Raviv Ullman, Bill Pullman, Holly Hunter. Photo credit: Monique Carboni
Ozzie (Pullman) and Harriet (Holly Hunter) are a typical American couple--just like in the sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet--in a typical American home (rendered perfectly by Derek McLane). Their son Rick (Raviv Ullman) plays guitar, always greets his parents with a smile, and has a healthy appetite. However, their perfect world starts to fall apart when their oldest, David (Ben Schnetzer), comes home from Vietnam, blind. He is haunted by the memories of his lover Zung (Nadia Gan), but his family doesn't want to hear about her and they don't know how to deal with this new angry presence in their home. The characters are too prone to exhausting monologues, but surprisingly, this play still has the power to shock.

Perhaps it would feel more dated in less capable hands. Schnetzer caught my attention a few months ago in the film Pride and here he again proves that he is an actor to watch, giving David more dimensions than just an outlet for Rabe's anger. Hunter delivers a manic performance, but she could have reigned it in more at the beginning. While Pullman's Ozzie slowly unravels, she speaks in the same high-pitched, high-strung manner throughout. Ullman gives a layered performance, going from comic relief to creepy. When the play ends, it's a relief to be rid of this toxic atmosphere, but, especially as we're approaching Veterans Day, it's a reminder that not everyone has that luxury.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Tziporela Brings Its Quirky Brand of Comedy to the U.S.

Combining dance, music, comedy, and charming accents, Israeli theater troupe Tziporela is a welcome addition to the downtown theater scene. The company is making its U.S. debut with Odd Birdz at the Players Theatre. Most of the show is in English, though a lot of the sketches are wordless. And when they do speak in Hebrew, it is translated, usually adding to the comedy.

There are 24 scenes--enough to appeal to a variety of tastes. I enjoyed some sketches more than others and I'm sure everyone will have their own preferences based on individual sense of humor. I probably laughed the most at "A Real Date" starring Ben Perry and Tamara Klayngon (see video below), which addresses what people would say on dates if they were completely honest.

Another personal favorite is Perry and Dana Ivgy as a musical duo singing "Something Stupid" and changing the lyrics from "I love you" to actual stupid things a person might say. Ivgy is also a standout in "This Thing Called Love," in which she alternates lip syncing as a man and a woman, creating a dialogue in song lyrics. Gal Friedman and Tomer Nahir Petluck comment on some of the differences between Odd Birdz and a typical Off-Broadway show as a hilarious old couple arguing in the audience. The entire ensemble, which also includes Efrat Aviv, Danny Isserles, and Lotus Etrog, is effortlessly in sync with each other.

As we exited the theater, the cast shook our hands and thanked us for coming (they had also greeted us when we arrived with Hershey's Kisses) and then had a "Something Stupid" singalong, inviting audience members to suggest their own stupid lines. Odd Birdz closes on November 19, but Tziporela should feel free to come back any time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Play Has A Hot Tub And Takes You Back In Time

It sounds like a good writing exercise: write a play which requires an actual Jacuzzi. I'm not sure if that's what gave The Debate Society (Paul Thureen, Hannah Bos, and Oliver Butler) the idea for the appropriately titled Jacuzzi, but there's more to the play, written by Thureen and Bos and directed by Butler, than just a hot tub. And that doesn't take away from how impressive it is that they were able to get a working Jacuzzi in the small Ars Nova space.
Left to Right: Paul Thureen, Chris Lowell, Hannah Bos. Photo credit: Ben Arons
The reason for the Jacuzzi? Robert (Peter Friedman) always wanted one at the family ski chalet, but his wife didn't allow it. He got the place in the divorce, so he finally has one installed. When the play begins, Erik (Thureen) and Helene (Bos), are relaxing in the tub. Bo (Chris Lowell) shows up, a night early to meet his father, and assumes that Erik and Helene are renters. When his father arrives the next day, Erik and Helene say they are there to install the Jacuzzi. Robert asks them to stay to help pack up things that need to be sent to his ex-wife.

Costume designer Jessica Ford, props designer Noah Mease, and set designer Laura Jellinek provide early '90s period details like bright neon ski suits, VHS tapes, and an answering machine, but this isn't your typical '90s nostalgia. It's clear that Erik and Helene aren't what they seem--they keep telling Bo and Robert different stories about their families that don't match up. More is revealed through Helene's narration in between scenes, but more questions are also raised (some of which are never answered), creating a horror film-like suspense I've rarely experienced at the theater. Thureen and Bos strike a perfect balance between creepy and friendly with their smiles and often vacant facial expressions. Robert and Bo aren't the most likable people, but in Friedman and Lowell's carefully crafted portrayals, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for them and their struggle to get the love they need from each other.

Tickets are only $35, but the run (through November 1) is almost sold out.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Revivals on Broadway

Do you remember those old NBC commercials for reruns? "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you." That's how I feel about revivals. Though sometimes they seem like the safe choice, there will always be a new audience for a show. With all the theater I've attended in my life, there are still many classic plays and musicals that I've never seen. I recently had the chance to see You Can't Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman and Love Letters by A.R. Gurney for the first time.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

The 1936 play You Can't Take It With You is frequently performed in school and community theaters, and it seems like most theater people were in it or involved with it at some point, but somehow I went this long without being exposed to it. After seeing the current production at the Longacre Theatre, I understand the lasting appeal. It's a delightful story about an eccentric family, the Sycamores. There is Penelope (Kristine Nielsen), a wannabe playwright, and her husband Paul (Mark Linn-Baker), who makes fireworks. Their daughter Essie (Annaleigh Ashford) is a dancer and candy maker married to Ed (a standout Will Brill), who plays the xylophone. Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (James Earl Jones) cares for his pets snakes and doesn't believe in paying income taxes. Alice (Rose Byrne, making a charming Broadway debut) is the normal one and when she falls in love with Tony Kirby (Fran Kranz), who comes from a respectable family, she is worried about how the two families will get along. For all the hilarity, it is also quite moving how much the Sycamores love each other. I saw an early preview of the show, but it could have been running for months for how in sync everyone was (as directed by Scott Ellis).
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

To be honest, Love Letters--a 1989 two-hander in which actors sit and read letters--sounded boring to me, so I was surprised by how quickly I got into the story. Actors will rotate in the production at the Brooks Akinson Theatre. The first cast is Brian Dennehy as Andrew Makepiece Ladd III and Mia Farrow as Melissa Gardner. Conservative Andy and wild Melissa met in elementary school and the play is told through their letters, cards, and invitations to each other. They are convincing as children, but not too over-the-top, and they transition seamlessly into the different ages without the benefit of costume or makeup changes. Farrow, who has the more showy role, hasn't been on Broadway since 1980, but this performance, in which she conveys so much beneath the surface of the letters, proves she belongs here.

This season, I look forward to more revivals of shows I've never seen--The Real Thing, Side Show, On The Twentieth Century, to name a few--and also plenty of new works, maybe some of which will also become classics.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Contest: Win Tickets to Stalking the Bogeyman

Update: The contest is now closed. The winner was chosen at random from the entries here and on Twitter. Congratulations, philipleeny (P.S. Great entry)!

Stalking the Bogeyman opened at New World Stages on Monday. Based on the true story made famous on the radio show "This American Life," it follows journalist David Holthouse's secret pursuit of justice for a crime hidden for 25 years. Markus Potter adapted Holthouse's story for the stage and directs. I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds like a powerful story, and heavier than standard New World Stages fare. I'm giving away a pair of tickets. The winner will receive a voucher good for a variety of dates.

I think it's interesting that the source is a radio show. Last night I saw a musical based on a magazine. Since I'm thinking about different types of source material, in order to enter the contest, leave a comment on this post telling me something (it could be anything) that you think would be good source material for a play or musical. You can also tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (if you enter this way, you must be following on Twitter to win). You can enter once each way for a total of two entries. A winner will be chosen at random from all the entries on Money, October 6, at 3:00 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!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Q&A with Mark Childers, Bookwriter of the Musical Love Quirks

The new musical Love Quirks started out as a song cycle by composer/lyricist Seth Bisen-Hersh. Now it's a book musical about four roommates (two straight women, a gay man, and a straight man) living together in New York City and falling in and out of love. Mark Childers was asked by his brother, Love Quirks director Brian Childers, and Bisen-Hersh to write the book scenes.
The cast of Love Quirks: (from left) Teresa Hui, Brian Shaw, Lauren Testerman, Robert McCaffrey.
Photo credit: Mark Childers
Childers says that he and Bisen-Hersh work really well together, which made it easier to write a book for a collection of songs that already had a structure. "Seth is a great guy to work with. I feel we have a strong collaborative process in the sense that we don't hold back. We are very honest with each other and willing to listen to one another; rewrites, new dialogue, new songs, plot changes. It's all part of the process and we both really enjoy that side of it," Childers says.

Another challenge was writing in Bisen-Hersh's voice, so the songs wouldn't feel disconnected from the dialogue. Childers was able to do that by listening to him in conversations, but what he found most helpful was watching him work. I also spoke to Childers about how audiences can help in the development of the show, working with his brother, and what's next for Love Quirks.

Q: It says on the website that you intend to improve the show in front of an audience as a stepping stone to a commercial Off-Broadway run. Has the audience reaction been helpful to you so far?
A: Yes. When you see an audience see it for the first time and you didn't know something was funny, that's the fun part. You're listening for something and they're laughing at this other part and you're thinking, "I didn't write that to be funny." And then stuff that's [written to be] funny, they're silent. We're definitely learning a lot from audiences and we look forward to our next round of rewrites.

Q: So, are you rewriting now or are you waiting until this run is finished?
A: I write every day in my head. I'm always writing. I could change everything. You're always doing that because that's what writers do, or at least I do. You're always looking to improve. Especially when you're in the process. That's the mindset that you can change those things. But what's been nice is someone eventually takes it away from you and the production team has taken it away from us. I cannot make changes for this run, but we are absolutely thinking about it constantly. Looking to the next draft. Looking and thinking forward. 

Q: Bookwriting seems like a difficult job. People often blame the book when a musical doesn't work. Why did you want to get into that?
A: I started writing because I had stories. I've written for musicals. I've done this before for a book musical with material that was also existing except it wasn't already structured [The Kid from Brooklyn: The Danny Kaye Musical]. I write because I have stories to tell. Why do I write? I'm masochistic? I can't answer that question.

Q: Do you have any inspirations?
A: Probably the play that made me want to write was Six Degrees of Separation. The first time I read Six Degrees of Separation, I decided I was going to be a writer.

Q: What's it like working with your brother?
A: Working with my brother is great, actually. We make a great team and we've had lots of practice at it because he was part of The Kid from Brooklyn. We've worked together back in the day when I used to get up and do shows. Back in--I'm not telling you what year--he was Tony and I was Riff in West Side Story. So we've been working together for a long time. And if we fight through it, we fight through it and it always stays about the piece. We don't cross those lines.

Q: What else do you want people to know about the show?
A: I want people to know that this show is a lot of fun. It is not heavyhanded. It is just heart and just come and have a great time and laugh. Don't come in here looking to have your life changed or anything, but just remember moments in your life that you can relate to. The music is great. The actors are fantastic.

Love Quirks is playing at Theatre 54 through September 28. $30 tickets are available here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Interactive Theater on Governors Island

I'm not usually into audience participation. I'd rather watch the actors from a safe distance. I'm also not good at making decisions. I'm always afraid to make the wrong choice. So Trade Practices, an interactive theater experience in which audience members choose how to invest their time and money, took me out of my comfort zone. But I'm happy to say I survived and even had fun.
Left to right: Mike Iveson, Peter McCab, and Dax Valdes. Photo credit: Carl Skutsch
Trade Practices is produced by HERE and performed at Pershing Hall on Governors Island. If you've never been to the charming Governors Island, which is a quick $2 roundtrip ferry ride from Manhattan, that's reason enough to see the show.

Audience members are given colored tickets upon arriving and are soon greeted by enthusiastic intern Darlene (Brooke Ishibashi), who shows a welcome video about Tender Inc., the fictional company that makes the paper that American money is printed on. Then the audience is divided into groups based on ticket color. I was sent to the executive office to see the opening scene of the owners storyline (the others are communications, management, and workers). After the first scene, everyone heads to the trade floor and and we are told to talk to others to find out about other stories and trade tickets for a different scene (each opening scene is repeated once). I chose to see workers because apparently I make my theater decisions based on which actor seems funniest in the short introductions (that would be Daniel Kublick as foreman Franklin). At the next regroup, everybody is given money, which is used to buy stock in stories and gain admittance. Between each scene is a trip to the trading floor with more chances to buy stocks in other stories or sell your own. That was probably the closest I'll ever be to being on a trade floor, and I enjoyed the rush.
Jenniffer Diaz (purple jacket), Dax Valdes (green jacket). Photo credit: Carl Skutsch
The show was created by Kristin Marting and David Evans Morris (also credited with the idea's conception). Scenes were written by Erin Courtney, Eisa Davis, Robert Lyons, Qui Nguyen, KJ Sanchez, and Chris Wells. I saw at least one scene from every story except for management, so I have to live with never knowing what I missed out on. Some of the stories went in strange directions (assassins and robots were involved), but I don't want to reveal too much and influence your decisions if you see the show. The financial advisers (played by Mike Iveson and Daphne Gaines) were necessary to tell the audience what to do, but long discussions about their personal lives and musical numbers are unnecessary when there is already so much going on. (The running time is over two hours with no break.)

At the end, I was left with stock in communications and workers, worth $11. I had the option to trade it in for a tchotchke, origami, or real money at a horrible exchange rate. I went for the real money, just to see how much I'd make. I earned 38 cents, but that's still 38 cents more than I had when I arrived.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How Zak Resnick Became My New Theater Crush

You might not have heard of Bert Berns, but you've definitely heard his songs. "Twist and Shout." "I Want Candy." "Hang On Sloopy." Just to name a few. People remember who performed these songs, but not who wrote them, in large part because he died at the young age of 38 from heart problems. The new musical A Piece of My Heart sets out to bring him out of obscurity. This may not been part of the original plan, but it also introduces audiences to Zak Resnick, who plays Berns.
Photo credit: Jenny Anderson
Yes, he's attractive (see photo), but it is his gritty voice that leaves the biggest impression (considering he shares the stage with talent including De'Adre Aziza, Leslie Kritzer, and Derrick Baskin, this is no small feat). I'm going to need a cast album, so I can hear him sing those songs again. He also has an easy charm and later in the show makes for a believable tortured musician.

I know there's more to theater than cute boys, but I also felt it was my duty to get Resnick on your radar. You're welcome.

The Atomic Bomb Set To Rock Music

When I told my mom I was seeing a new musical Atomic (she likes to hear about the shows I see), she said, "Like the atomic bomb?" and laughed, thinking it couldn't actually be about that. But I explained that I was indeed seeing a musical about the atomic bomb, or at least about the team of scientists who developed it as part of the government-funded Manhattan Project.
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
But as unlikely a topic as it may seem for a musical, there's a lot of rich material. Perhaps too much. The book by Danny Ginges and Gregory Bonsignore mostly focuses on Leó Szilárd (Jeremy Kushnier), whose discovery of the nuclear chain reaction was crucial to building the bomb, but it also packs a lot in--a framing device in which J. Robert Oppenheimer (Euan Morton) is giving testimony at the Atomic Energy Commission hearings and even the love story between Leó and his wife Trude (Sara Gettelfinger). As a result, it doesn't give each adequate space and it sometimes feels unfocused. Atomic is at its best when exploring the ethical questions (Should the bomb have been dropped even though the war was essentially over? Did they save even more lives in the long run than they took?) and the psychological effects on the team after the dropping of the bomb.

The music by Philip Foxman, who co-wrote lyrics with Ginges and Bonsignore is generic rock and all the songs sound pretty similar, but the cast, which also includes David Abeles as Arthur Compton, the leader of the project, and Jonathan Hammond as a sex-crazed Enrico Fermi, really brings it vocally, especially Kushnier. It's unfortunate that Morton only had one song, but he makes for a fun narrator. You could do a lot worse for a summer musical.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Contest: Win Copies of Martin McDonagh Plays

Update: The contest is now closed. The winner was chosen at random from the entries here and on Twitter. Congratulations, Pandora!

The Cripple of Inishmaan, one of my favorite productions of the season, is sadly closing soon--on July 20. Maybe you saw the play and want to learn more about McDonagh or maybe you're already a fan of his other work, but I'm giving away copies of his Tony-nominated plays The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West.

In order to enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling me which plays of McDonagh's you've seen or read. You can also tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (if you enter this way, you must be following on Twitter to win). You can enter once each way for a total of two entries. A winner will be chosen at random from all the entries on Friday, July 10, at 3:00 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 want to know more about The Cripple of Inishmaan, here's a backstage video with the always charming Daniel Radcliffe, including a tour of his dressing room as well as Sarah Greene's:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Phantom Take Three

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy
I know it's not cool for theater kids to admit to liking The Phantom of the Opera, but I do. The story is a fascinating one (there's a reason the 1909 book has been adapted so many times). I first saw the musical in 2001 and was mesmerized by the opulent world. When I revisited it in January, 2010, I still enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite as impressive as I remembered, especially the chandelier, which seemed far punier and slower-moving. But when Norm Lewis joined the cast as the first African-American Phantom on Broadway, I knew it was time for another trip to The Majestic. And I'm happy to report that this time the 26-year-old show felt exciting and fresh, thanks to Lewis and Sierra Boggess breathing new life into their characters.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story (it has come to my attention that many frequent theatergoers have actually never seen it), Christine Daaé (Boggess) is a chorus girl at the Paris Opera House taking singing lessons from a mysterious tutor. When Prima Donna Carlotta (Michele McConnell) drops out of an opera, Christine takes over. Raoul (Jeremy Hays), who she knew as a girl, is in the audience, and is instantly smitten. But her tutor, the Phantom, is very strict and in love with her. Christine doesn't have much to do but sing and look pretty, but Boggess gives her more of a personality, hinting that there is more to her than someone passively letting things happen to her. Lewis's voice is glorious as always. When he is wearing his mask, he makes for a sexy Phantom, but he also taps into his tormented side. His "The Music of the Night" is worth the price of admission.

The last time I saw another long-running show, Chicago, it felt rundown, like everyone was going through the motions. Not so with Phantom. The whole company was present in the moment. Though the chandelier still doesn't live up to the memory of the first time.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Broadway Up Close

Though I know a lot about Broadway, I still have more to learn, and I recently had the chance to do that on a Broadway Up Close walking tour, which caters to all prior knowledge levels. Our tour guide John Scacchetti is a dancer/actor who made his Broadway debut in 42nd Street. He was also in Patti LuPone Gypsy, so I've actually seen him on Broadway. I did Act I of the tour, which you have to complete before taking Act II and Act III. Act I only covers 41st through 44th Street. I expected to cover more ground, but there was a lot to see in those four blocks.

We started in front of the Nederlander and continued to other current and former theaters. As long as I've been coming to Times Square to see shows, there were some buildings that I had no idea used to be theaters. John used an iPad to show us what the inside of some of them looked like. My favorite stop was the final one, the Belasco. We learned about how it is haunted by the ghosts of producer David Belasco his former lover, the woman in the blue dress. Other than Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the theater's current tenant, the only two successful shows there have been Shakespeare revivals. And the architect George Keister was apparently a huge Shakespeare fan. We also learned that the word drag queen comes from Shakespeare. When all roles would be played by men, those playing women would be labeled on the cast sheet with the letters DRAG (dressed as a girl) so that the costume designers would know.

I don't want to give away too many fun facts. I'll save that for John and the other tour guides. If you're interested in booking, you can fill out a form on the website (there is a not a set schedule).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Michael Shannon is Killer (But Not The Killer)

Let me just get this out of the way: I'm not that into Eugéne Ionesco. I think it's important for critics to acknowledge their biases because everyone has them and I prefer realism to absurdism. But while The Killer is not my type of play, if any theater company can make me enjoy it, it's Theatre for a New Audience.
Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein
Michael Shannon plays everyman Berenger. Some say he's miscast in the role, but I found him convincing and it is nice to see him play against type. It was especially a pleasure in the scenes where he is at his most euphoric, such as in the first scene, when Berenger is learning about a radiant city that he wants to move to from the architect (Robert Stanton). Berenger's bubble is burst when he finds out there is a killer loose and Berenger makes it his mission to find and stop him.

Director Darko Tresnjak's, who just won a Tony for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, vision is an eerie one, realized with the help of lighting designer Matthew Richards and sound designer and composer Jane Shaw. He balances the humor--Kristine Nielsen and her cartoonish facial expressions are a highlight--and the horror--the killer's (Ryan Quinn) maniacal laughter still haunts me. 

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

What You Missed at the 2014 Theatre World Awards

For me, the highlight of theater award season is the Theatre World Awards ceremony. It recognizes twelve actors making a significant, reviewable Broadway or Off-Broadway debut. The recipients are announced in advance, so there are no losers and the evening is a celebration of the theater community.
Christopher Plummer received the John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement.
According to host Peter Filichia, 122 men and 66 women were eligible this year and those were narrowed down to Paul Chahidi (Twelfth Night), Nick Cordero (Bullets Over Broadway), Bryan Cranston (All The Way), Mary Bridget Davies (A Night With Janis Joplin), Sarah Greene (The Cripple of Inishmaan), Rebecca Hall (Machinal), Ramin Karimloo (Les Misérables), Zachary Levi (First Date), Chris O'Dowd (Of Mice and Men), Sophie Okonedo (A Raisin in the Sun), Emerson Steele (Violet), and Lauren Worsham (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder). Chahidi and Hall were not present. Chahidi is in London rehearsing for the stage version of Shakespeare in Love, but he did make a recording expressing his thanks, and it was not mentioned why Hall was not there. The rest of the recipients were presented their awards by former winners as is Theatre World tradition. Unfortunately, the ceremony is not televised or available on livestream, but I'm here to fill you in on what went down at Circle in the Square last night. These are just a few of the highlights:
  • John McMartin presents "young discovery" Bryan Cranston his award: McMartin, who received his Theatre World Award in 1960 for Little Mary Sunshine, stars in All The Way with Cranston. McMartin thought he should try to look at his co-star with new eyes. "I said to myself, 'Ooh the potential here,'" he said, adding, "Please, please don't let Hollywood steal him away." 
  • Zachary Quinto and Celia Keenan-Bolger are siblings from another mother: Quinto (2011 recipient for Angels in America) presented Keenan-Bolger with the Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theater for her performance in The Glass Menagerie, saying, "I never had a sister until I played Tom in The Glass Menagerie and now I'll have one for the rest of my life." When Keenan-Bolger accepted the award, she said, "My takeaway from [The Glass Menagerie] is that," and pointed at Quinto. She spoke about how much she loved Dorothy Loudon growing up due to her obsession with the Annie cast recording and concluded her moving speech by saying, "If my five-year-old self knew I would get an award named after the lady who played Miss Hannigan, I would still be jumping on my bed."
Zachary Quinto presented Celia Keenan-Bolger with the Dorothy Loudon Award for Excellence in the Theater
  • Ben Daniels surprises Sophie Okonedo: When Okonedo accepted the award from Daniels, who won in 2008 for Les Liasions Dangereuses, she expressed shock that he was there. She said that they had been best friends for 20 years since meeting doing a show at the Old Vic and she had asked him to accompany her to the ceremony, but he claimed he was busy. She had known about the award from Daniels, who told her it was the best thing he ever received. Her speech, in which she mentioned that this is the first award she's received, was so gracious and genuine that I'm tempted to buy a ticket to A Raisin in the Sun.
    Sophie Okonedo, one of this year's recipients
  • Zachary Levi and Len Cariou meet: Sometimes the presenters and recipients are dear friends and sometimes they've never met. But usually in the latter case, the presenter has seen the performance and can speak to that. But Cariou (1970 recipient for Henry V and Applause) hadn't seen First Date and expressed his regret that no one was there who could say lovely things about Levi (I hoped they had at least asked his Chuck co-star Yvonne Strahovski, who won last year). It was a little sad, but they both handled it well. And it made for a cute moment when Levi took the stage and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you." 
  • Rob McClure makes me want to buy a ticket to Honeymoon in Vegas: McClure, who received the award last year for Chaplin, performed the title number for the Broadway-bound Honeymoon in Vegas and if the rest of the musical is as good, it could end up being a must see.
  • We find out how the Billys are doing: In 2009, Trent Kowalik, David Alvarez, and Kiril Kulish won a Theatre World Award (and a Tony) for portraying Billy in Billy Elliot. Kowalik, now 19, is a college student and updated the audience on the whereabouts of the other former Billys. Kulish is in California and Alvarez (the Billy I saw) is in the army. Kowalik said they were living their dream and wished the same for Emerson Steele. Steele, who was cast for the City Center production of Violet via an open call, said her dream was to be on Broadway and her even bigger dream was to be opposite Sutton Foster. 
    Billy Elliot's Trent Kowalik, all grown up
  • Keala Settle leaves everyone with a great mental image: Settle, who won last year for Hands on a Hardbody, made fun of her Les Misérables co-star Ramin Karimloo for being Canadian and the way he plays softball. She then quoted Will Swenson, "Ramin, more than any other co-star, has made me question my own sexuality." At the end of his speech, Karimloo said, "I have many things to discuss with Will Swenson. Then he should talk to Audra." Given that Audra McDonald has said in interviews that she was kind of hoping Valjean and Javert would kiss, I think she'd be fine with it.
  • De'Adre Aziza and Mary Bridet Davies reunite: Aziza (2009 recipient for Passing Strange) described her former A Night with Janis co-star as "cords of steel and a heart of gold." She spoke about how important it is to have humility and graciousness when you are the lead in a show and said that the cast looked up to Davies as their leader even though some of them had more stage experience. Davies was visibly crying when she accepted the award and said that the show was about the woman who made Janis who she was and that's what the cast did for her. She also probably spoke for all the winners when she said that she was never cool growing up, but "I'm fucking cool now."
  • Chris O'Dowd speaks the truth: O'Dowd's speech was of course hilarious, but the highlight was when he said what I'm sure everyone in the industry has thought: "The Wednesday matinees I could do without."

Friday, May 09, 2014

Samuel D. Hunter Hits Me Where I Live (Again)

It's hard for me to talk/write about Samuel D. Hunter's work because I have such a strong emotional response that feels very personal to me. So I suggest you stop reading right now and just buy a ticket to The Few, which opened last night at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. This is only the second of his plays I've had the pleasure to see (the first was The Whale), but I already consider him one of my favorite playwrights. He writes about people whose lives are so distant from my own (in the case of The Few, truckers), yet his characters are so relatable.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
The play, set in 1999 (immediately obvious even before the play begins thanks to Dane Laffrey's detailed, cluttered set), begins with Bryan (Michael Laurence) returning to the Idaho offices of the newspaper, also called The Few, that he started with his friend Jim and his ex-girlfriend QZ (Tasha Lawrence). They started the paper to give truckers something to read to help them feel less alone. In the four years Bryan's been away, having disappeared after Jim's death, QZ has turned the paper into personal ads--more enticing to advertisers. She has also employed Jim's nephew, 19-year-old Matthew (Gideon Glick). Hunter reunites with director Davis McCallum, who never rushes the work or the three actors.

Matthew spends much of the play trying to remind Bryan of what the paper used to be and could be again by reading its mission statement: “If you ask us what our agenda is, we’ll tell you that we don’t know. If you ask us why we started a newspaper for truckers, we’ll tell you it’s because we had to.” In The Whale, a piece of writing was also finally read aloud in a beautiful and significant way. As a writer and a reader, I like to believe that writing has value and the power to affect lives. Hunter's work makes me believe that it does.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Contest: Win Tickets to The Anthem

Update: The contest is now closed. The winner was chosen at random. Congratulations, Matt!

The new musical The Anthem is described as "Hunger Games meets Ayn Rand in a world where individuality is illegal." Some cool things about this show: it features an aerial and circus environment and its cast includes Remy Zaken (Spring Awakening) and Jason Gotay (Bring it On). Performances start May 20 at The Lynn Redgrave Theater at 45 Bleecker Street.

Now that I have you all intrigued, I'm sure you want to win a pair of tickets. In order to enter the contest, leave a comment on this post telling me why you want to see the show. You can also tweet about the contest or retweet one of my tweets about it (if you enter this way, you must be following on Twitter to win). You can enter once each way for a total of two entries. A winner will be chosen at random from all the entries on Friday, May 9, at 12:30 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!

If you don't win the tickets, you can still see the show at a discount:
$39 from May 20 to May 28 (regularly $60)
$45 from May 30 to July 6 (regularly $64)

Online: CLICK HERE and use code ANTRRM
Phone: Call 866-811-4111 and mention code ANTRRM
In Person: Bring this offer to The Lynn Redgrave Theater at 45 Bleecker (box office opens daily 2 hours before performances)
Restrictions: Subject to availability. Maximum of 12 tickets per order. Not valid on prior purchase. Offer cannot be combined with other discounts or promotions. Additional blackout dates and restrictions may apply. No refunds or exchanges. Offer may be revoked at any time. Standard service fees apply to all phone and internet orders.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging (Most of the Time)

The last show of the Broadway season has opened, the Tony nominations are out, and there's only one thing left before the season can officially come to a close: Forbidden Broadway has to spoof the latest musicals. The new update of Forbidden Broadway is called Comes Out Swinging. Often this is a fitting subtitle, but there are a few instances of a swing and a miss. (Am I mixing sports metaphors here? I'm not a sports person even though I loved the musical of Rocky.)
Scott Richard Foster (left) as Sylvester Stallone and Marcus Stevens (right) as Andy Karl; Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
Gerard Alessandrini, who created the show in 1981, continues to write the parodies. By far my favorite segment is the one about Jason Robert Brown. Brown, played by Marcus Stevens, is introduced as the president of the Jason Robert Brown fanclub and the song is basically about how in love he is with his own genius (sample lyrics to the tune of "Moving Too Fast" from The Last Five Years: "The generation that I invented/They know my talent is large and vast/I'm ego centric/And self contented"). If you follow him on Twitter, you know this is probably accurate. This is followed by a faithful recreation of the meeting of Francesca (Carter Calvert) and Robert (Scott Richard Foster) in The Bridges of Madison County, complete with digs at Kelli O'Hara's Italian accent. The fourth member of the quartet is Mia Gentile, who channels Indina Menzel in "Let It Blow."

Marcus Stevens; Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
Another highlight is the use of an old school overhead projector to represent the new Les Misérables "sets," which doen't look that far off from the real thing. But not all the choices are as funny. Do we really need more Liza Minnelli and Mandy Patinkin send-ups? Calvert and Stevens are skilled at impressions, but these targets are easy and familiar. And there are missed opportunities, such as when Foster plays Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig, but in a number about how Broadway shows are made on assembly lines, which Hedwig and the Angry Inch can't be accused of. It just seemed like an excuse to get Foster in that costume.

Speaking of the costumes, Dustin Cross and Philip Heckman (full disclosure: I interviewed Heckman about the Forbidden Broadway costumes in 2012) impress with their recreations of Broadway costumes on a small budget. Having just revisited Matilda the night before, I can say that the Trunchbull costume is particularly spot-on.

Since Forbidden Broadway is a representation of the season, it can be forgiven for having its ups and downs. Just like every year on Broadway, you have to take the good with the bad.

She's The Greatest Star

Once again, 92Y's Lyrics & Lyricists series educates and entertains. Instead of a composer or lyricist, the topic for the latest installment was a performer--Fanny Brice.

My knowledge of Fanny Brice comes from the movie Funny Girl, so it was fascinating to learn more about her from host Ted Sperling, musical director of South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and more. Capathia Jenkins, Leslie Kritzer, Faith Prince, and Clarke Thorell performed a mix of songs made famous by Brice and songs from Funny Girl. Sperling also provided background on the musical, such as the fact that Stephen Sondheim was originally tapped to write the lyrics for Jule Styne's score, but dropped out because Mary Martin was supposed to play Fanny. Crazy.

There are two more performances of Ziegfeld Girl: The Many Faces of Fanny Brice on Monday. The final show of the Lyrics & Lyricists series--Panning for Gold: Great Songs from Flop Shows--will premiere on May 31.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Another Harry Potter Star Makes Good

I don't know what they fed those kids over on the Harry Potter set, but they all seemed to have turned into such hardworking and talented adults. Harry Melling, who played Harry's cousin Dudley Dursley in the series, wrote and stars in Peddling, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59.
Photo credit: Bill Knight

Melling plays a peddler, going door to door selling household items like toilet paper, who wakes up almost naked in a field and has to retrace his steps. He performs the show in an enclosed space with sheer walls (designed by Lily Arnold), which gives an appropriately claustrophobic feel. Lights on a pole in the center of the stage represent other characters (Azusa Ono is the lighting designer), voiced by Melling with his portable microphone. He is a captivating performer, mesmerizing the audience with his spoken word style, even when aspects of the story are hard to follow. Although I couldn't tell you everything that happened to that peddler, it was enough to just go along for the ride.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Tony Award Nominations: All The Nominees and Opinions

One of my favorite days of the year is Tony nomination day. And my favorite part of the day is writing this blog post. Because I have no power to decide who is nominated, I can at least express my opinions about it here. I'm the first to admit that my tastes have been a little weird this season. My favorite musicals were the critically-panned Big Fish and Rocky, which didn't fare much better. But the heart loves what the heart loves. So without further ado, here is the complete list of nominees, and some early thoughts/predictions about each category.

Best Play
Act One
Author: James Lapine
Producers: Lincoln Center Theatre, André Bishop, Adam Siegel, Hattie K. Jutagir

All The Way
Author: Robert Schenkaan
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Louise Gund, Jerry Frankel, Stephanie P. McClelland, Double Gemini Productions, Rebecca Gold, Scott M. Delman, Barbara H. Freitag, Harvery Weinstein, Gene Korf, William Berlind, Caiola Productions, Gutterman Chernoff, Jam Theatricals, Gabrielle Palitz, Cheryl Wiesenfeld, Will Trice, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Repertory Theater

Casa Valentina
Author: Harvey Fierstein
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove, Colin Callender, Robert Cole, Frederick Zollo, The Shubert Organization

Mothers and Sons
Author: Terrence McNally
Producers: Tom Kirdahy, Roy Furman, Paula Wagner & Debbie Bisno, Barbara Freitag & Loraine Alterman Boyle, Hunter Arnold, Paul Boskind, Ken Davenport, Lams Productions, Mark Lee & Ed Filipowski, Roberta Pereira/Brunish-Trinchero, Sanford Robertson, Tom Smedes & Peter Stern, Jack Thomas/Susan Dietz

Outside Mullingar
Author: John Patrick Shanley
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove

I haven't seen All The Way yet. Do I need to now? It's too late for me to see Outside Mullingar. So I'll stick to the three plays I have seen. I don't think Act One is that well-written, which is why there should be separate categories for script and production. It's a gorgeous production, but for a show called Act One, it is way too long and doesn't spend enough time on the good stuff--Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's collaboration. I liked Mothers and Sons a lot, but I would give it to Casa Valentina, which I think is Fierstein's best work (that I've seen). I do agree with the critics about the act two problems, but none of these plays is perfect, and the scene where Gabe Ebert's character gets a makeover is my favorite in any Broadway play this season.

Best Musical
After Midnight
Producers: Scott Sanders Productions, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Furman, Candy Spelling, Starry Night Entertainment, Hal Newman, Allan S. Gordon/Adam S. Gordon, James L. Nederlander, Robert K. Kraft, Catherine and Fred Adler, Robert Appel, Jeffrey Bolton, Scott M. Delman, James Fantaci, Ted Liebowitz, Stephanie P. McClelland, Sandy Block, Carol Fineman, Marks-Moore-Turnbull Group, Stephen & Ruth Hendel, Tom Kirdahy

Producers: Disney Theatrical Productions, Thomas Schumacher

Beautiful- The Carole King Musical
Producers: Paul Blake, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Jeffrey A. Sine, Richard A. Smith, Mike Bosner, Harriet N. Leve/Elaine Krauss, Terry Schnuck, Orin Wolf, Patty Baker/Good Productions, Roger Faxon, Larry Magid, Kit Seidel, Lawrence S. Toppall, Fakston Productions/Mary Solomon, William Court Cohen, John Gore, BarLor Productions, Matthew C. Blank, Tim Hogue, Joel Hyatt, Marianne Mills, Michael J. Moritz, Jr., StylesFour Productions, Brunish & Trinchero, Jeremiah J. Harris

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Producers: Joey Parnes, S.D. Wagner, John Johnson, 50 Church Street Productions, Joan Raffe & Jhett Tolentino, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Catherine & Fred Adler, Rhoda Herrick, Kathleen K. Johnson, Megan Savage, ShadowCatcher Entertainment, Ron Simons, True Love Productions, Jamie deRoy, Four Ladies & One Gent, John Arthur Pinckard, Greg Nobile, Stewart Lane & Bonnie Comley, Exeter Capital/Ted Snowdon, Ryan Hugh Mackey, Cricket-CTM Media/Mano-Horn Productions, Dennis Grimaldi/Margot Astrachan, Hello Entertainment/Jamie Bendell, Michael T. Cohen/Joe Sirola, Joseph & Carson Gleberman/William Megevick, Green State Productions, The Hartford Stage, The Old Globe

Damn. With 12 new musicals this season, only four were nominated (there could have been up to five). It's hard not to see this as a fuck you by the nominating committee to this season's new musicals. But the truth is that most of those musicals were not great. Even A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, which is smart and entertaining, would probably not have gotten 10 nominations in a stronger year. I kind of hope it wins because it's the only one of these with an original score, but Beautiful is my favorite here. Yes, it's a jukebox musical, but so is Jersey Boys, and I think they both have the same problems (book) and the same strengths (good music, entertainment value, strong performances). If it were up to me, Rocky and Big Fish would be nominated. I knew it would never happen for Big Fish, but I had high hopes for Rocky. After Midnight is a polished, great time, but it's more of a revue than a musical. I think Aladdin might take it, but I don't understand the love for this show. It is an improvement over The Little Mermaid, but the animated movie is so much better. And though I appreciated that they tried to make it different from the movie, the changes didn't always work (Giving Aladdin and Jasmine non-animal friends, for example. They should be loners.).

Best Revival of a Play
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Producers: Michael Grandage Company, Arielle Tepper Madover, L.T.D. Productions, Stacey Mindich, Starry Night Entertainment, Scott M. Delman, Martin McCallum, Stephanie P. McClelland, Zeilinger Productions, The Shubert Organization

The Glass Menagerie
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, John N. Hart Jr., Jerry Frankel, Lou Spisto/Lucky VIII, INFINITY Stages, Scott M. Delman, Jam Theatricals, Mauro Taylor, Rebecca Gold, Michael Palitz, Charles E. Stone, Will Trice, GFour Productions, American Repertory Theater

A Raisin in the Sun
Producers: Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, Eli Bush, Jon B. Platt, Scott M. Delman, Roy Furman, Stephanie P. McClelland, Ruth Hendel, Sonia Friedman/Tulchin Bartner, The Araca Group, Heni Koenigsberg, Daryl Roth, Joan Raffe & Jhett Tolentino, Joey Parnes, S.D. Wagner, John Johnson

Twelfth Night
Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Scott Landis, Roger Berlind, Glass Half Full Productions/Just for Laughs Theatricals, 1001 Nights Productions, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Jane Bergère, Paula Marie Black, Rupert Gavin, Stephanie P. McClelland, Shakespeare's Globe Centre USA, Max Cooper, Tanya Link Productions, Shakespeare Road, Shakespeare's Globe

This was a good year for play revivals. I haven't seen A Raisin in the Sun and I don't know that I will. They have no discounts, rush, or standing room. I don't blame them--they can sell all their seats at full price and they certainly don't need my money, but I am grateful for shows like The Cripple of Inishmaan and Twelfth Night, which provide affordable seats for everyone. But enough about that, all three of the nominees I have seen would be deserving of the award. I think I would have to give it to Twelfth Night just because that production made me so happy. But this is the first production of The Cripple of Inishmaan on Broadway and man do I love that play. And I learned yesterday that The Glass Menagerie had never received a Tony nomination until this year, which is just ridiculous. The fact that Twelfth Night and Menagerie are closed could hurt their chances, but they both are tied at seven nominations--the most for any play.

Best Revival of a Musical
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Producers: David Binder, Jayne Baron Sherman, Barbara Whitman, Latitude Link, Patrick Catullo, Raise the Roof, Paula Marie Black, Colin Callender, Ruth Hendel, Sharon Karmazin, Martian Entertainment, Stacey Mindich, Eric Schnall, The Shubert Organization

Les Misérables
Producer: Cameron Mackintosh

Producer: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, David Mirvish, Barry and Fran Weissler, Elizabeth Armstrong, Mary Jo and Ted Shen

It's kind of funny to see long lists of producers for most productions and then for Les Mis it's just Cameron Mackintosh. But anyway, no surprises here. Cabaret was eligible, but I'm glad it wasn't nominated (as much as I love it) because it is the exact same production that won in 1998. I am not seeing Violet until next week, but I really hope Hedwig and the Angry Inch wins, and I think it will. I was not a fan of the cheap-looking Les Misérables: Pop Edition (or CW Edition as my sister called it), except for some of the performances, which I'll get to in some of the other categories.

Best Book of a Musical
Chad Beguelin

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Douglas McGrath

Bullets Over Broadway
Woody Allen

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Robert L. Freedman

The book for Bullets Over Broadway isn't funny. The book for Beautiful is often, "This happened. Then we wrote a song. Then it was a hit." The book for Aladdin is not as good as the movie. So for me, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder gets it by default.

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin

The Bridges of Madison County
Music & Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Music: Steven Lutvak
Lyrics: Robert L. Freedman & Steven Lutvak

Music: Tom Kitt
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey

I've said it before and I'll say it again, music and lyrics should be two categories. The score of Rocky is the weakest part of the show, so this is the one nomination I'm ok with it not getting. But I listen to the Big Fish cast recording all the time and hold back tears. Aladdin is the best score here, but I'm not sure how it is eligible, since most of the songs that weren't in the movie were cut and therefore not written for the stage production. I don't feel as strongly about The Bridges of Madison County score as everyone else seems to. I love the Kelli O'Hara/Steven Pasquale songs, but mostly for the performances. The other songs I could do without. I'm really happy for Steven Lutvak and Robert L. Freedman and here is a shameless plug for an interview I did with them.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Samuel Barnett, Twelfth Night
Bryan Cranston, All The Way
Chris O'Dowd, Of Mice and Men
Mark Rylance, Richard III
Tony Shalhoub, Act One

SAMUEL BARNETT! He was the best Viola I've ever seen. He hasn't been remembered in a lot of the other award nominations, so I wasn't sure that he would get it, but I'm thrilled that he did. Cranston seems to be a favorite to win, but like I said, I haven't seen his performance yet. I also missed Richard III and I hate myself. Other than Jim Norton, O'Dowd was the best thing about Of Mice and Men (the two Irish guys in an American play--who would have thought), a production I didn't much care for as a whole. I thought it was unnecessary for Shalhoub to play the older Moss Hart in Act One. He should have just played Kaufman, and would have still been deserving of the nomination. It is a shame that Zachary Quinto wasn't nominated for The Glass Menagerie. Also, Daniel Radcliffe is now 0 for 3. He never gives less than 100% when he comes to Broadway and I'm glad he keeps coming back. But why do the Tonys hate him?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Tyne Daly, Mothers and Sons
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, A Raisin in the Sun
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Audra McDonald, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill
Estelle Parsons, The Velocity of Autumn

McDonald has some stiff competition for her sixth Tony--her first as a leading actress in a play. She completely transforms herself into Billie Holiday. Her voice is unrecognizable. But I do think that Lady Day should be considered a musical, since it has more songs than some musicals. I haven't seen Jackson or Parsons. Daly was the best I've ever seen her in Mothers and Sons. I also wouldn't be mad if Jones won.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Neil Patrick Harris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Ramin Karimloo, Les Misérables
Andy Karl, Rocky
Jefferson Mays, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Bryce Pinkham, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder 

The Tony belongs to Harris and rightly so. He is giving a fearless performance as Hedwig, but there is nothing I can say about it that hasn't already been said, so let's move on to the it's-an-honor-just-to-be-nominated actors, starting with Karl. This is the one nomination I was hoping the most for and I'm so happy he got it. He's been a reliable presence on Broadway for a long time and now he's finally starring in a musical and killing it every night. Karimloo is the best Jean Valjean I've ever seen. The only downside of his nomination is that Will Swenson, who was eligible as a lead, didn't get one for his layered portrayal of Javert. It might have been better for him to be eligible in featured, but we'll never know. Pinkham was a pleasant surprise and I'm glad that both he and Mays will get to share this experience. I wouldn't want any of these five people to lose their nomination, but that said, there are plenty of people I wanted to see here: Steven Pasquale for The Bridges of Madison County, Norbert Leo Butz for Big Fish (I'm sure he's fine with his two Tony awards), and Zachary Levi for First Date, which was never going to happen, but I'm hoping he at least gets a Theatre World nomination.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical 
Mary Bridget Davies, A Night with Janis Joplin
Sutton Foster, Violet
Idina Menzel, If/Then
Jessie Mueller, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Kelli O'Hara, The Bridges of Madison County

I was not expecting Davies to be nominated, but congratulations to her. Even though the show is basically a concert that sugarcoats Joplin's life, none of the fault goes to Davies. I interviewed her for last year. I saw Foster in the concert of Violet this summer, but I haven't seen the full production yet. Menzel is giving the performance of her career. She sounds and acts better than I've ever seen her. I also loved Mueller as Carole King--a performance which is more than just an imitation. But I really hope that O'Hara wins because she hasn't yet and it's about time. Her Italian accent needs work, but her voice is flawless.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play 
Reed Birney, Casa Valentina
Paul Chahidi, Twelfth Night
Stephen Fry, Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance, Twelfth Night
Brian J. Smith, The Glass Menagerie

Just look at how perfect this category is. I'm so happy for Reed Birney, as the self-appointed president of his fan club. It's too bad that there is no ensemble category because every performance in Casa Valentina was worthy of a nomination. I would have especially liked to see Gabriel Ebert here, but he won last year for Matilda, so he'll be ok. Twelfth Night is another show I would like to give an ensemble Tony to, but I'll settle for four nominations for the cast. Especially happy for Paul Chahidi, who was perfect as Maria. And Smith for his heartbreaking performance as the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie. Waiting for Godot/No Man's Land got no nominations and the one that I think would have been most deserving is Billy Crudup for Lucky in Waiting for Godot, but again, there's no one I'd want to get rid of to make room for him. Same goes for Christian Camargo as Mercutio in that disappointing Romeo and Juliet.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Sarah Greene, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Celia Keenan-Bolger, The Glass Menagerie 
Sophie Okonedo, A Raisin in the Sun
Anika Noni Rose, A Raisin in the Sun
Mare Winningham, Casa Valentina

Yeah Sarah Greene! Inishmaan is another case for the ensemble Tony, but I'm glad she gets to represent the cast. And I'm glad Celia Kennan-Bolger and Brian J. Smith were both nominated, since their work together was so lovely. It would also be nice if Winningham won since she is always a highlight of everything she's in. I am happy with this list, although I want to give a shoutout to Jayne Houdyshell as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Danny Burstein, Cabaret
Nick Cordero, Bullets Over Broadway
Joshua Henry, Violet
James Monroe Iglehart, Aladdin
Jarrod Spector, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical 

It seems Iglehart has it in the bag. He is charismatic, but I think his performance had been too hyped up by the time I saw it. I wouldn't be mad if he won, but for me, it wasn't one of the more memorable performances of the season. Cordero was the best thing about Bullets and Burstein was flawless as always, but I am most exited for Spector, who was so winning in Beautiful. The only person missing here is Bobby Steggert for Big Fish, but I'm more than happy to settle for his Drama Desk nomination.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Linda Emond, Cabaret 
Lena Hall, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Anika Larsen, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Adriane Lenox, After Midnight
Lauren Worsham, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

No complaints here. Larsen was another pleasant surprise. I don't think the actors of Cabaret should be eligible since it is a remounting of the 1998 production and they should be treated as replacements. Though there should be a category for replacements. That said, I loved Emond in Cabaret. But I hope Lena Hall wins. And I did not like her at all in Kinky Boots, but Yitzhak is the role she was born to play.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Beowulf Boritt, Act One
Bob Crowley, The Glass Menagerie
Es Devlin, Machinal 
Christopher Oram, The Cripple of Inishmaan 

I love a rotating set and there are two great ones here--Act One and Machinal. I also loved the Glass Menagerie set.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Christopher Barreca, Rocky
Julian Crouch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Santo Loquasto, Bullets Over Broadway

I really hope Rocky wins this one and that's all I have to say about that.

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jane Greenwood, Act One
Michael Krass, Machinal 
Rita Ryack, Casa Valentina
Jenny Tiramani, Twelfth Night

I think it's all about dressing the men as women here--Casa Valentina and Twelfth Night.

Best Costume Design of a Musical 
Linda Cho, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
William Ivey Long, Bullets Over Broadway
Arianne Phillips, Hedwig and the Angry Inch 
Isabel Toledo, After Midnight

Although I didn't care for Bullets, the costumes were lovely. I liked all the nominees, but I have to give it to Hedwig here.

Best Lighting Design of a Play 
Paule Constable, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Jane Cox, Machinal
Natasha Katz, The Glass Menagerie
Japhy Weideman, Of Mice and Men 

I feel bad, but I always get tired by the time I get to the design categories. I'd give it to The Glass Menagerie because I remember the most about the lighting of that play.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical 
Kevin Adams, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Christopher Akerlind, Rocky
Howell Binkley, After Midnight
Donald Holder, The Bridges of Madison County 

I think Hedwig should win everything it's nominated for except for set design because I want Rocky to win something and that seems like its best shot.

Best Sound Design of a Play
Alex Baranowski, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill
Dan Moses Schreier, Act One 
Matt Tierney, Machinal 

I only notice sound design when it's bad, so I don't really know what the frontrunner is here.

Best Sound Design of a Musical 
Peter Hylenski, After Midnight
Tim O'Heir, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Mick Potter, Les Misérables
Brian Ronan, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical 

See the two previous categories.

Best Direction of a Play
Tim Carroll, Twelfth Night
Michael Grandage, The Cripple of Inishmaan
Kenny Leon, A Raisin in the Sun 
John Tiffany, The Glass Menagerie 

So torn between Tiffany, Carroll, and Grandage (no offense to Leon--I haven't seen the play). Personally, I'd probably give it to Carroll because that production has my heart forever.

Best Direction of a Musical 
Warren Carlyle, After Midnight 
Michael Mayer, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Leigh Silverman, Violet 
Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

Michael. Mayer. (This is based solely on the merits of this production and not on his American Idiot snub, which I haven't forgotten.) That said, how could Alex Timbers not be nominated for Rocky? I say this as someone who often finds him overrated/too in love with his own cleverness. But he deserved the nomination for the thrilling fight scene alone.

Best Choreography 
Warren Carlyle, After Midnight 
Steven Hoggett & Kelly Devine, Rocky
Casey Nicholaw, Aladdin
Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway

If After Midnight gets anything, it should be choreography, but I really want Rocky to win. I would have nominated Stroman for Big Fish over Bullets but nobody asked me.

Best Orchestrations
Doug Besterman, Bullets Over Broadway 
Jason Robert Brown, The Bridges of Madison County
Steve Sidwell, Beautiful - The Carole King Musical
Jonathan Tunick, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

This one I'd definitely give to Jason Robert Brown.

So, what do you all think? Who else was snubbed? Who are you excited for? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Watch the 2014 Tony Nominations Live

Watch the 2014 Tony Award Nominations Live! 

Need a place to watch the 2014 Tony nominations tomorrow morning? How about right here. Come back to this post tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. (or a few minutes earlier so you don't miss a second of the nominations) to watch a live video webcast. And then come back later for my annual here's-what-I-think-about-the-nominations post.

Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally Play Exes in Annapurna

Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally's sitcom training comes in handy in Sharr White's Annapurna. Though the topics in the play are serious in nature (it deals with alcoholism and domestic abuse, for starters), there are plenty of laughs and at times it does feel like we could be watching a new sitcom pilot.
Photo credit: Monique Carboni
Mullally plays Emma, who shows up unannounced at her ex-husband Ulysses's (Offerman, Mullally's real-life husband) cluttered trailer (brilliantly designed by Thomas A. Walsh). The two haven't seen each other since Emma walked out on him 20 years earlier, with their 5-year-old son in tow. To say more would be to reveal the twists in the play. There has to be a lot of exposition since the audience doesn't know the couple's history, but the two are believable enough to overcome the less credible dialogue in the script.

Feck Yeah Martin McDonagh

Thank you, Daniel Radcliffe. If it weren't for you, The Cripple of Inishmaan probably wouldn't be on Broadway right now. Martin McDonagh's plays have been produced on Broadway before without star power, but Radcliffe's presence definitely makes Inishmaan financially viable. Not to say that this is a case of stunt casting--he's very deserving of the part. But even though the advertisements indicate otherwise, this is a true ensemble piece, and everyone pulls their weight.
Daniel Radcliffe as Billy; Photo credit: Johan Persson
Radcliffe doesn't appear in the play until pretty far along in the first act. We first hear about his character, "Cripple Billy," by way of his aunties Eileen (Gillian Hanna) and Kate (Ingrid Craigie), who aren't biologically related to him, but raised him after his parents drowned. The women aren't exactly PC (it's Ireland in 1934), but they have Billy's best interest at heart. This being a McDonagh play, the characters are sharp-tongued and violent, but also caring and loyal. When gossip Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt) informs the town that an American film crew is coming to shoot a movie, Billy is determined to be discovered.
Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill as Helen and Bartley McCormick; Photo credit: Johan Persson

Radcliffe, who continues to prove what a dedicated and hardworking stage actor he is, spends the play limping and contorted, but his performance is restrained. Director Michael Grandage has assembled such a fine cast that I hate to single anyone out, but Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill are a particular delight. She is wickedly funny as the saucy Helen and he is endearing as her simple-minded brother Bartley.

But the best thing about this production is that it's accessible: $27 tickets are available in advance to every performance.