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 Backstage.com 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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

In Praise of Bullets Over Broadway's Nick Cordero

Should I start with the good news or the bad news? The good news is that if you like big Susan Stroman dance numbers, Bullets Over Broadway has plenty of them. The other good news is that the show introduces many of us to the talents of Nick Cordero. The bad news is that for a musical comedy, it's not very funny.
Woody Allen wrote the book for this musical version of his 1994 movie of the same name. The backstage story seems like a no-brainer for a Broadway musical. It worked for Kiss Me Kate. But that musical had an original score by Cole Porter. This one uses pre-existing songs from the '20s, the era in which the show takes place. David Shayne (Zach Braff) is a struggling playwright, but gangster Nick Valenti (Vincent Pastore) agrees to invest in one of his plays on the condition that Nick's girlfriend Olive (Heléne York) gets a role. Cheech (Cordero), Olive's bodyguard during rehearsals, has a natural talent for playwriting and starts giving David advice to improve the dialogue. Much like Cheech saves Shayne's play, Cordero saves this one. Whenever he is onstage, the show picks up some energy. He is able to make his jokes land with ease. The others in the cast are not amateurs--it also includes Marin Mazzie as diva Helen Sinclair and a wasted Karen Ziemba who is reduced to carrying around a dog. Even Braff is well-cast as the nebbishy Shayne. But there never seems to be much of a point to anything that is happening. Even though lives are on the line, the stakes never seem that high. Part of that is the lack of an original score, which gives the musical a disjointed feeling of thrown together novelty songs--like the innuendo-heavy "The Hot Dog Song" or the inexplicable closer "Yes, We Have No Bananas."

I enjoy double entendres and old-fashioned musicals, but when what passes for humor is an overeating Brooks Ashmanskas in a fat suit, there are more groans than laughs. That is, until Cheech gets his big number, "Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do," complete with tap-dancing gangsters. If only the rest of the show were that fun.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Getting to Know Rodgers & Hammerstein at 92Y

Any evening with talented Broadway stars performing Rodgers & Hammerstein is going to be a good one. Especially when those stars are Jonathan Groff (Frozen), Mandy Gonzalez (In The Heights), Rebecca Luker (most recently seen in Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella), Phillipa Soo (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), and Lewis Cleale (currently in The Book of Mormon). But what made Lyrics and Lyricists: Getting to Know You: Rodgers & Hammerstein even better than your standard concert was host Ted Chapin's (president of Rodgers & Hammerstein: An Imagem Company) knowledge of the songwriting team. He shared tidbits about their collaboration and illustrated them by having the cast read letters that they wrote to each other.

And what better way to study their process than by hearing three incarnations of a song. Groff sang the never-before-performed "My Friend," which was supposed to be the song Lieutenant Cable sings after meeting Liat in South Pacific, but co-librettist Joshua Logan did not think was appropriate for such a life-changing moment. "My Friend" became "Suddenly Lovely," also nixed by Logan, but the tune was later used for "Getting to Know You" in The King And I. Finally, Groff performed the song which stayed in the show, "Younger Than Springtime." 

Every performance was a highlight, but Soo was the biggest surprise. I had seen and enjoyed her performance in Natasha, but was not aware of her range, evident in her sassy "I Cain't Say No" and affecting "Mr. Snow." I hope to see her in something else soon. Maybe in The King and I that Ted Chapin unofficially announced is coming to Lincoln Center next year?

If you don't have plans tonight, you can still catch the final performance of the show at 7:30 at 92Y. Tickets are only $25 if you are 35 and under. 

Contest: Win Tickets to Under My Skin

Update: The contest is now closed. Congratulations to the winner, @omgitzfern!

Do you want to see Kerry Butler in a new off-Broadway play? I'm giving away a pair of tickets to Under My Skin at the Little Shubert Theatre. It's about an eligible bachelor and a single, working mother who switch places and get to experience each other's lives. It's written by the husband and wife team known for the shows The Nanny, Three's Company, and Who's the Boss--Robert Sternin and Prudence Fraser.
In order to win a pair of tickets to see the show, leave a comment on this post telling me who you would like to trade places with if you had the chance. 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, April 11, at 4 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!

A Musical For Our Times?

In 2004, Stephanie D'Abruzzo was nominated for a Tony for Avenue Q. Now she's starring in the unimaginative Greed: A Musical for Our Times at New World Stages.
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
You have to hand it to Greed for delivering what it promises: a bunch of songs about greed. But the problem is that none of them (by Michael Roberts) say anything that insightful or funny. There's a song called "It's Mine" that is repeated three times. There are generic songs about cheating on your taxes and other things people do for money. There is even an offensive number called "Another Kid" about a mother continuing to get pregnant to get welfare money, which gets even more uncomfortable when Julia Burrows gets to the line about drinking and smoking while pregnant so that she can have a baby with birth defects and get even more money. The funniest line had nothing to do with the premise, but it was about how Greed shares a stage with The Gazillion Bubble Show.

We get it. People are greedy. But we don't need to go to a musical to learn that. If Roberts wants to write a musical for our times, maybe he can visit Avenue Q, which is playing in the building, for some research.