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.