Thursday, October 27, 2016

Kate Baldwin at 54 Below: We're Not in Glocca Morra Anymore

Kate Baldwin is upfront right off the bat: She isn't at 54 Below to sing musical theater songs. She grew up loving pop music and her concert, "Extraordinary Machine," directed by Robbie Rozelle and music directed by Kris Kukul, is a journey through some of her favorite songs. And it's wonderful. If you didn't know it before, here is the proof that she can sing anything.

Sporting an amazing red jumpsuit that few people could pull off, she is just as comfortable singing Erasure as she is Loretta Lynn. In between numbers, we get to know her through anecdotes about her childhood and family, including an adorable story about how her relationship with her future husband blossomed over AIM.

For those who do want to hear some show tunes, don't worry, she does throw in some musical theater: "Wicked Little Town" (in a beautiful medley with Rufus Wainwright's "Oh What A World," sung by special guest Matt Doyle), "Breeze Off The River" from The Full Monty (to my delight), and "Ribbons Down My Back" from her next Broadway show, Hello, Dolly!

Remaining performances are tonight, Friday, and Sunday (October 27-29) at 7 p.m.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Q&A: Fringe Encore Series

There are so many shows at the New York International Fringe Festival that it can be hard/impossible to see everything. So, one thing I love about the Fringe Encore Series is that you get a second chance to see shows you missed. Not only that, but you can see shows from Edinburgh Fringe Festival--the world's largest arts festival--without even buying a plane ticket to Scotland.
Poster art for Homo Sapiens Interruptus, one of the shows in the Fringe Encore Series.

The series, which is happening now through October 30 at SoHo Playhouse, was founded by Britt Lafield. He and one of his producing partners, John Pinckard, were discussing how many great Fringe shows disappear after the festival, never to be heard from again. It can be difficult to move a show after a successful Fringe run, especially for younger companies, so they thought a "best of" festival would get those productions more exposure and help facilitate the next step. "We wanted to help bring more attention and notoriety to the productions we thought deserved it and try to help educate those productions about what the next step could be. I had seen so many great shows get mutilated by 'professional' producers who just took over the productions from the company in an effort to make a quick buck," Lafield says. "That was so against what I thought the festival and really theater should be about that I wanted to help change it in some way."

Darren Lee Cole, artistic director of SoHo Playhouse, got involved in the second year, when Lafield approached him about hosting the series. "Not only have I known Darren Lee Cole for years, I also know of his passion for new works and new types of theater. He and the SoHo seemed a perfect fit for the Series, especially given the amazing history of the theater itself stretching back to the late Edward Albee and his VanDam Collective in the '60s and '70s and the first productions of some of the world's most famous playwrights like Christopher Durang and Tracy Letts," Lafield says.

Read on for what the two of them had to say about how shows are chosen and more and click here for a list of participating shows and schedule.

Q: What does being a producer of a festival encore series entail?
Britt Lafield: Producing the Series starts with getting like-minded theatrical professionals to go out and scope out the shows during the New York Fringe and then spending lots and lots of time in theaters seeing everything you can. We look at reviews and audience attendance, but also talk to other audience members about what they have seen and like. Word of mouth is a very strong tool at any fringe and you just need to know what to listen for. Once the shows are identified and approached, hopefully they accept our offer to be a part of the Series. The Series works as a ticket split between the production, the Series, and the theater, so there is no out of pocket expenses for the show. We take care of all the staffing and advertising for the Series as a whole. And once it starts, we try to focus on the productions themselves and making sure they are comfortable and offer them help in any areas they might need it. Whether it is outreach to audience members for their show in particular or just feedback of the production itself. It is a lot of work, but worth it to see the productions use what they have learned to improve their show.
Darren Lee Cole: My emphasis has been on searching for the top shows that represent the best of the amazing new talent out there. Basically, it entails going to a lot of theatre and meeting a lot artists. Both things I have a passion for.

Q: Why do you include shows from Edinburgh in addition to New York?
Lafield: After a number of years just doing the "best of" Fringe NYC, we saw great opportunity in expanding the Series to try and be a true world-wide Fringe Encore Series. Edinburgh, being the oldest and most famous fringe festival, seemed like the logical choice to start with. We are hoping to add shows from the World Fringe Alliance every couple of years.
Cole: Three years ago, I went to Edinburgh with three shows I directed. Once there, I began telling people about the encore series that I was a part of back in NYC. Frankly, they flipped out and kept asking me when I was going to expand and bring shows from the Edinburgh Fringe. So I called Britt and invited four shows that year to join us. The word got out and I have gone to Ed Fringe each of the last three years searching for the best there to bring to the New York audience.

Q: What other factors are involved in deciding which shows will be included?
Lafield: We try to see every show we can that wants to be eligible for the Series. Darren travels to Edinburgh to look at shows there while my team and I work on all the production here in New York. We look at reviews, attendance, word of mouth, and just the artistic value of the production itself. The show doesn't have to be a runaway hit to be included. We love to find the great show no one has heard of or that was just getting noticed. Because at the end of the day, a great show is a great show. And with all the competition for audience in any fringe, the loudest show is not necessarily the best.
Cole: It is tough because there is no way to see all of the shows in Edinburgh; there are over 3,000. However, as artistic director of the playhouse and having produced and directed plays for the past 35 years, I now have many associates and friends that help point me in the right direction.

Q: Are there any shows in particular that you are excited about it or that you want to call attention to?
Lafield: What I love most of all is the diversity that we have in the Series this year. From incredibly quirky shows like ChipandGus to the amazing physical theater work of the production Flight. There really is something for everybody. I myself really enjoy the a cappella musical The Extraordinary Fall of the Four-Legged Woman and the ingenious performance of Dominique Salerno in her amazing one-woman The Box Show.
Cole: This year, I really love two shows that are at the tail end of the festival. Yokes Night from Edinburgh and Homo Sapiens Interruptus from New York. I love Homo Sapiens Interruptus so much I am directing the encore production.

Q: Is there anything that you've learned from past years of the series that has been helpful this year?
Lafield: We learn something new about the Series every year. But we never get to rest on our laurels because with every new year comes an entirely new set of shows and theatrical professionals. And every show is different, so we learn what types of productions play best at what time slots. What days of the week or holidays are best to avoid. But most of all, we just learn what the next generation of theater people are passionate about. And that is what make it important.
Cole: Never give up on theatre! There are always amazing new emerging artists at these festivals. I've learned that we can really make a difference in helping them move forward artistically and professionally.

Q: The fall is a pretty busy time for theater in New York (busier than the summer, when Fringe is going on). How do you stand out from the crowd?
Lafield: It very difficult to stand out, but we believe that people want to come see good theater and that there is an audience for every show. We aren't trying to compete with Broadway or other cultural events. That's a losing battle. We are competing for the audience that wants to see the next big thing and where tomorrow's Broadway shows will be coming from. That is what we try and offer.
Cole: New York is a big place with a healthy appetite for theatre. The Fringe can be overwhelming. So many theatergoers are interested in "the best of two fest" idea we put forward. There's lot of competition, but nothing quite like what we do.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Q&A with The Lion's Benjamin Scheuer

The album Songs From The Lion, released in June, is the official cast recording for Benjamin Scheuer's autobiographical one-man show. But if you saw the show, which deals with his father's death and his struggle with cancer, at Manhattan Theatre Club, the Lynn Redgrave Theatre at the Culture Project, or on tour, you will notice some differences--new arrangements, added musicians, backing vocals, and an altered order of the songs. "You don't only have to play the show top to bottom in a recording studio. Doing that is to me making a record only for the people who've seen your show. And I'd rather make a record for everybody, people who have seen my show and maybe people who haven't," Scheuer says. "There are plenty of people in the world who are never going to get to see The Lion, but if I can make a record that they dig, then that's just as exciting for me."

He has also been reaching people with his music in other ways. The video for "The Cure" premiered on the The New York Times' Well Blog. His next video, for "Golden Castle Town," will be out in mid-October. I spoke to Scheuer over the phone before his first performance of The Lion in San Diego, where he will be through October 30, about the album and the future of The Lion.

Q: I had interviewed you before and the album hadn't come out yet, but you said you wanted it to be different from the show, that you don't think recordings should be exactly the same as what's on stage. I think you really accomplished that. Why was that important to you?
A: On stage, the theater director, Sean Daniels, helped me take my material and realize the best version of it for the stage. And for a record, I did the same thing. Meaning, I asked record producer Geoff Kraley to do the same job on the record that a director does in the theater, which is take the material and make sure it works best in the chosen medium. In the theater, you come in and you sit down and you hear all the songs all the way through with stories in between. On a record, you don't have costumes, you don't have lights, you don't have sets, you don't have talking, and you don't have the promise that they audience is going to listen to it all the way through. You do have a lot of other things. You have the opportunity to work with whatever sound you can imagine and whichever musicians you can call.

Let me give you an example. In the show The Lion, during "St. Rick," my character Ben is an angry 16 year old and is imaging he has the band Nine Inch Nails in his head when they play the song. For the record, Geoff Kraley and I thought, why don't we just get actual Nine Inch Nails to play on the record. We called Josh Freese who plays drums in Nine Inch Nails and he came and played on the track. So, suddenly the record sounds the way my character hears things in his head in the show.

We changed words, we changed arrangements, we changed the order of the songs to make a record that stands up on its own. We'd like to get this record, which is an official cast recording, nominated for a Grammy for best musical theater album, to simply show that there is a different way that musical theater records can be made.

Q: As you said, on the record, you can listen to it all the way through or you can listen to each song individually, so what was the thought process behind the order of the songs?
A: The play is one act, meaning there is no intermission, but it is structured in three acts with a coda. A record is two acts. A record is side A and side B. And a record doesn't have any talking, so we thought about tempos, we thought about keys of songs, we thought about the flow of the record.

The song "The Lion" is the last song in the show. I didn't want to put "The Lion" last on the record Songs from The Lion, so we put it third. The song "White Underwear," where dad dies, is the fifth song in the show. I didn't want to put that song fifth on the record before the song "The Lion." "The Lion" is a much more fun song. The song "Golden Castle Town" is a much more fun song. I wanted to open the record in a way that captured a positive energy and I didn't want all the positivity to be at the end, whereas in a piece of theater you want to end on a joyful and high note.

We end with "Three Little Cubs" which is actually a nod to the song "Her Majesty," which ends the record Abbey Road. Geoff Kraley and I played with different orders until we came up with one that felt like a nice journey for people who had never seen the show. It felt like it had good ebbs and flows--the pacing, the timing, the content of the lyrics. For the show, you pick the best order for the songs and for the record, you pick what you hope is the best order for the songs and if people want to put it in a different order, that's what iTunes is for.
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez
Q: You're getting ready to open in San Diego and then Los Angeles. I remember reading that you were looking for someone else to take over so the show can continue when you leave. Are you still looking?
A: We're still looking. I'm looking for a guitar player first. Any age, any gender, any race. The way you audition is you learn the song "Cookie Tin Banjo" and send a video of yourself playing it to us, so I look forward to seeing what people share. I'm excited.

Q: Do you think it will be weird for you to have somebody else perform it, since it's such a personal story?
A: Probably. That's ok, though. I'd like to see if it works as a piece of theater without me in it. And it very well might. It also might not at all. It might need the autobiographical elements to work. I'm not sure, so as a playwright, I'm interested to see how much of The Lion is a play and how much of it is very much a coffee shop gig and the differences there. I'm eager and curious.

Q: You've been performing the show for a couple of years now. After performing it for so long, are you still finding new things in it?
A: Well, doing it in the round is really fascinating because here in San Diego we restaged the entire show. Because we are doing it in the round, I think there are 14 microphones on stage now and it feels very much like a recording studio. And I feel very comfortable in a recording studio, a room with microphones everywhere, so that feels really fun, and it feels pretty different, so that keeps it fresh for me.

Q: Are there any other cast recordings that you like?
A: Hamilton. Questlove, who produced that record, did an amazing job. It sounds like a contemporary pop record. It sounds like a record that can exist outside of a theater. And I look forward to hearing what new musical theater artists do when they now record their cast albums. When they think how can we keep allowing this wonderful genre to grow. Musical theater is not a genre. Musical theater is a methodology. And so, how can that methodology continue to evolve and captivate new audiences?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Q&A with Kit Goldstein Grant

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a small, private reading of a musical called The Wrong Box. The dark comedy about a race for a family inheritance is continuing its development with a staged reading on Monday October 3 at 1 and 7 p.m. at the National Opera Center. Tickets are available here. Composer/lyricist Kit Goldstein Grant adapted the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne. Here's what she had to say about why she chose that source material, how she got into musical theater composition, and more.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your background? When did you first start writing musicals? How did you realize you had that talent?
A: I wrote my first musical when I was 13, and a group of friends and I started a theatre company to produce it when I was 14. I had picked up a book by Alan Jay Lerner at a used book shop, realized that everything I liked was a musical, and thought I'd try writing one myself. Nobody's been able to stop me since.

Q: What was the first piece of music you ever wrote?
A: The first piece I remember notating was a song about going to the fair and eating cotton candy. The scansion was terrible, but I was probably around eight, so I'm going to cut myself a little slack on that.

Q: Who would you say are your influences?
A: Lerner and Loewe, Bock and Harnick, Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter--all the classics.
Kit Goldstein Grant

Q: Why did you choose to adapt this novel? What was your first exposure to it?
A: My sister always gave me all the good books to read. She gave me The Wrong Box, too, and mentioned she thought it would make a good musical. I read it and agreed. I wrote the first draft while I was in college during a spring break.

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
A: Outdoors, in a big park, on a sunny day.

Q: What can audiences expect and why should they see the reading?
A: The Wrong Box is a really fun show with a lot of surprises. Sometime even I still get surprised by plot twists. Audiences can expect dry Victorian humor, larger than life characters, inconvenient dead bodies, and memorable songs. We've got a terrific cast [Joe Harkins, Raul Hernandez, Melissa Rose Hirsch, Andrew Holder, Robin Cameron Lounsbury, Evan Mayer, Angelo McDonough, Christopher Michaels, Chris Collins Pisano, Daniel Plimpton, Adrian Rifat, Jordan Silver, Morgan Smith, Kasey Yeargain, and Frank Vlastnik] assembled with actors from Broadway and national tours, and the cast alone is reason enough to come.

Q: What are your goals for after the reading?
A: We're looking at different possibilities to bring the show to more audiences in New York City and elsewhere. One thing we'd love to do is partner with a regional theatre to continue with development of the show, so if you run a regional theatre, don't forget to call!

Q: And finally, how far would you go to get a family inheritance?
A: Halfway around the world! (Either direction.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

FRINGE: Treya's Last Dance

A quick note before we get into the review. My other Fringe reviews are on Theatre is Easy--American Strippers is here and Colorblind'd is here. Theatre is Easy reviews every single Fringe show, so if you're trying to figure out what to see during the final weekend of the festival, definitely check that out.
Shyam Bhatt in Treya's Last Dance. Photo credit: Abhishekharee Parthasarathy
Watching someone speed date turns out to be a lot more entertaining than participating in it. In the British one-woman show Treya's Last Dance, written and performed by Shyam Bhatt, we hear about Treya's life through the answers she gives to banal questions at a speed-dating event, which she attends at her parents' insistence. (Why would anyone go on speed dating other than to please their parents?) This proves to be a smart structure for a solo show, as it requires that she tells her stories in short intervals, before moving onto a question from the next suitor.

The tone starts off light, but turns sad as the show continues (not unlike real dating). As she reveals more about herself, she is forced to confront a recent tragedy. (Speed dating works as therapy too. Who knew?) Bhatt is able to balance the humor and pain and is gifted at transforming into the different people she impersonates. She even does a spot-on American accent. On top of all that, she gives insights into being the child of immigrants and how the Indian community deals with LGBTQ issues--a topic not often explored in the theater.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Don't Fuck With The Babysitter

The Disney Channel Original Movie, or DCOM. There have been some hits (Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, Brink) and some misses (Dadnapped, Hatching Pete). Tonight, the 100th DCOM, Adventures in Babysitting, airs. It's a little bit of a cheat to call it a Disney Channel Original Movie, since it's a remake of a 1987 film starring Elisabeth Shue. Tiffany Paulsen wrote the new script and the plot is significantly altered from the original by David Simkins, so I guess it counts. I watched the 2016 version and then watched the original, which I had never seen. Why didn't anyone tell me I should watch it earlier? I have been missing out all these years. In order to see how they compare, I stacked them up against each other in a not-at-all scientific way using five categories that I made up.

The Casts

In true DCOM fashion, the 2016 version stars some familiar Disney Channel faces, Sabrina Carpenter (Girl Meets World) as Jenny and Sofia Carson (Descendants) as Lola. They are competing for an internship and after an accidental cell phone switch off of the DCOM plot device checklist, Lola accepts a babysitting job offer that Jenny turned down, since she was already sitting for another family. Carpenter and Carson are on the likable side of the new crop of Disney Channel stars and the kids are not as annoying as the children in other DCOMS. But in addition to Shue as Chris, the original has a very young Anthony Rapp as obnoxious, sex-obsessed Daryl and Bradley Whitford plays her asshole boyfriend, Mike, so it automatically has the edge.

Winner: 1987

The Characters

Chris only had to watch two kids and the tag-along friend. Jenny and Lola have a total of five. There are some nice additions--future Master Chef Junior Bobby (Jet Jurgensmeyer) and rebellious Emily Cooper (Nikki Hahn)--but because there are so many, you don't get a chance to know them as well as in the original. Less is more. Plus, the 1987 version has the hilarious Brenda (Penelope Ann Miller), who runs away from home and needs Chris to pick her up, the inciting incident for the adventures. Her storyline was probably too dark for Disney, but the movie isn't the same without her.

Winner: 1987

Rap Battle Versus Blues Singing

Most of the ads I've seen for the 2016 version (and because I've been watching a lot of the old DCOMS as part of the marathon, I've seen A LOT of commercials for it), advertise the rap battle between Jenny and Lola. It's not that great, as far as rap battles go. They find themselves on stage in a club and have to perform before they can leave, so it is an update of the original in which they find themselves in a blues club. The blues song has better lyrics and more emotion. Rapp even performs in it.

Winner: 1987

Thor Versus Roller Derby

In the original, the youngest kid, Sara (Maia Brewton) is infatuated with Thor. She rides around on roller skates wearing a Thor helmet. In the update, AJ (Madison Horcher) rides skates too, but it's because she's obsessed with the roller derby. It's odd that Disney wouldn't take advantage of the obvious Marvel tie-in and keep the Thor stuff in there. I appreciate that a young girl in 2016 would have roller derby as a hobby, but I also like that a young girl in the '80s liked comics before it was trendy.

Winner: 1987

The Dialogue

The line, "Don't fuck with the babysitter," was changed to, "Don't mess with the babysitters," to make it kid-friendly. Likewise, all the curse words and talk of Playboys is gone and with them, a lot of the humor. There was a questionable line about rape that I'm happy to see gone, but overall, the 2016 version is so watered down that I wonder who at Disney saw the original and thought, "Yeah, that's in keeping with our brand."

Winner: 1987

The original Adventures in Babysitting is the clear winner here. The DCOM is not without its charms. The song "Wildside" is pretty catchy (though it's no "Supernova Girl") and Carpenter always elevates the material she's given (I'm looking at you, Girl Meets World). If you're a Disney Channel fan, you won't be sorry you watched it, but if you're going to, do yourself a favor and watch the original too. It's available on Netflix streaming.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Annual Tony (Or Hamiltony) Nomination Post

A lot has changed since I started this blog in 2006, but one constant is my annual Tony nomination post. I do this partly for myself, to organize my thoughts after the initial excitement/anger, and in an attempt to start a conversation with other theater lovers. So let's get to it. Here's the complete list of nominees, followed by thoughts in each category about what the nominators got right, who they left out, and who deserves to win.

Best Play
Author: Danai Gurira
Producers: Stephen C. Byrd, Alia Jones-Harvey, Paula Marie Black, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Alani Lala Anthony, Michael Magers, Kenny Ozoude, Willette Klausner, Davelle, Dominion Pictures, Emanon Productions, FG Productions, The Forstalls, MA Theatricals, The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Patrick Willingham
The Father
Author: Florian Zeller
Producers: Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow, Barry Grove
The Humans
Author: Stephen Karam
Producers: Scott Rudin, Barry Diller, Fox Theatricals, James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Roy Furman, Daryl Roth, Jon B. Platt, Eli Bush, Broadway Across America, Jack Lane, Barbara Whitman, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Scott M. Delman, Sonia Friedman, Amanda Lipitz, Peter May, Stephanie P. McClelland, Lauren Stein, The Shubert Organization, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers
King Charles III
Author: Mike Bartlett
Producers: Stuart Thompson, Sonia Friedman Productions, Almeida Theatre, Robert G. Bartner, Norman Tulchin, Lee Dean & Charles Diamond, Scott M. Delman, Ruth Hendel, Stephanie P. McClelland, Jon B. Platt, Scott Rudin, Richard Winkler, Zeilinger Productions, The Shubert Organization
This was a good year for new plays. I loved King Charles III, The Humans, and Eclipsed. I liked the idea of The Father--it was from Frank Langella's character's perspective, so you experienced dementia with him--but it didn't have a lasting impact on me. Still, I don't think any of the other eligible new plays are deserving of the fourth spot, so I'm fine with this. It's going to be a tough race and I'm not sure what will win. The Shakespeare nerd/Anglophile in me wants King Charles III to win, but then again, Stephen Karam is one of the finest playwrights of his generation and the family dynamics and dialogue in The Humans are so realistic.

Best Musical
Bright Star
Producers: Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Zebulon LLC, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Len Blavatnik, James L. Nederlander, Carson & Joseph Gleberman, Balboa Park Productions, The Shubert Organization, Jamie deRoy/Catherine Adler/Cricket Jiranek, Rodger Hess, A.C. Orange International, Broadway Across America, Sally Jacobs & Warren Baker, Diana DiMenna, Exeter Capital, Agnes Gund, True Love Productions, The Old Globe
Producers: Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman, The Public Theater
School of Rock—The Musical
Producers: Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Really Useful Group, Warner Music Group & Access Industries, The Shubert Organization, The Nederlander Organization
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Producers: Scott Rudin, Roy Furman, Columbia Live Stage, Center Theatre Group, Roger Berlind, William Berlind, Broadway Across America, Heni Koenigsberg, The Araca Group, Peter May, Jon B. Platt, Daryl Roth, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Scott M. Delman, Sonia Friedman, Ruth Hendel, Independent Presenters Network, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Spring Sirkin, Eli Bush, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, Color Mad Productions, Len Blavatnik
Producers: Barry and Fran Weissler, Norton and Elayne Herrick, David I. Berley, Independent Presenters Network, A.C. Orange International, Peter May, Michael Roiff, Ken Schur, Marisa Sechrest, Jam Theatricals, 1 Theatrics, Benjamin Simpson & Joseph Longthorne/Shira Friedman, The American Repertory Theater
Hamilton will and should win. I don't really need to go into the brilliance of Hamilton here. I'm not seeing Shuffle Along until Saturday, so I can only talk about the shows I've seen. So far, Waitress is my favorite new Broadway musical that isn't Hamilton this season. After that, American Psycho. Even though it's sometimes messy, it dares to be different, and that's more than I can say for the unoriginal and predictable Bright Star. I enjoyed myself at School of Rock, but I'd rather watch the movie. The other new musicals this season were Amazing Grace, which I didn't see, Tuck Everlasting, On Your Feet!, Disaster!, and Allegiance!, and though they all have their issues, I'd have probably given the fifth spot to one of them over Bright Star.

Best Revival of a Play
Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Roger Berlind, William Berlind, Len Blavatnik, Roy Furman, Peter May, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Scott M. Delman, Heni Koenigsberg, Daryl Roth, Jane Bergère, Sonia Friedman Productions, Ruth Hendel, JFL Theatricals, Stacey Mindich, Jon B. Platt, Megan Savage, Spring Sirkin, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
Producers: Scott Rudin, Lincoln Center Theater, Eli Bush, Robert G. Bartner, Roger Berlind, William Berlind, Roy Furman, Peter May, Amanda Lipitz, Stephanie P. McClelland, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Scott M. Delman, Sonia Friedman, John Gore, Ruth Hendel, JFL Theatricals, Heni Koenigsberg, Jon B. Platt, Daryl Roth, Spring Sirkin, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson, The Young Vic
Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Roger Berlind, William Berlind, Scott M. Delman, Peter May, Jon B. Platt, Len Blavatnik, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Heni Koenigsberg, Stacey Mindich, Wendy Federman, Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
Long Day's Journey Into Night
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers, Ryan Murphy
Noises Off
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers
I think A View from the Bridge has a good chance of winning this, and it should. I wouldn't be mad if The Crucible won. Noises Off was a lot of fun, but it didn't make me look at the play in a new way the way the other two productions did (I'm not even an Arthur Miller fan). I had mixed feelings about Long Day's and this production of Blackbird was the weakest work I've seen from Joe Mantello, who can normally do no wrong.

Best Revival of a Musical
The Color Purple
Producers: Scott Sanders Productions, Roy Furman, Oprah Winfrey, David Babani, Tom Siracusa, Caiola Productions, James Fantaci, Ted Liebowitz, Stephanie P. McClelland, James L. Nederlander, Darren Bagert, Candy Spelling, Adam Zotovich, Eric Falkenstein/Morris Berchard, Just for Laughs Theatricals/Tanya Link Productions, Adam S. Gordon, Jam Theatricals, Kelsey Grammer, Independent Presenters Network, Carol Fineman, Sandy Block, Menier Chocolate Factory Productions
Fiddler on the Roof
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jam Theatricals, Louise Gund, Jerry Frankel, Broadway Across America, Rebecca Gold, Stephanie P. McClelland, Barbara Freitag & Company/Catherine Schreiber & Company, Greenleaf Productions, Orin Wolf, Patty Baker, Caiola Productions, The Nederlander Organization, Gabrielle Palitz, Kit Seidel, TenTex Partners, Edward M. Kaufmann, Soffer/Namoff Entertainment, Healy Theatricals, Clear Channel Spectacolor, Jessica Genick, Will Trice
She Loves Me
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Sydney Beers
Spring Awakening
Producers: Ken Davenport, Cody Lassen, Hunter Arnold, David J. Kurs, Deaf West Theatre, Carl Daikeler, Sandi Moran, Chockstone Pictures, Caiola Productions, Marguerite Hoffman, H. Richard Hopper, Learytodd Productions, Markoltop Productions, R&D Theatricals, Brian Cromwell Smith, Invisible Wall Productions, Monica Horan Rosenthal
I'm so glad Spring Awakening was remembered. It was such a special production and I hope it wins to give more visibility to Deaf artists. But the Roundabout She Loves Me production is perfection. It will be hard for either to beat The Color Purple, which is also deserving. I have mixed feelings about this production of Fiddler with its unnecessary framing device, but the fourth slot had to go to something I suppose.

Best Book of a Musical
Bright Star
Steve Martin
Lin-Manuel Miranda
School of Rock—The Musical
Julian Fellowes
Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
George C. Wolfe

The biggest WTF of all the nominations is how Bright Star got nominated for book of a musical. There are things about that show that I liked, but the book is terrible. I would have given that spot to Jessie Nelson for Waitress. It was based on a movie and still had more originality than Bright Star, which wasn't based on anything. Also, almost all the best lines in School of Rock's book were from the movie.
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Bright Star
Music: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Lyrics: Edie Brickell
Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
School of Rock—The Musical
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Music & Lyrics: Sara Bareilles
Bright Star is a good example of why music and lyrics should be separate categories. The music itself is deserving of a nomination, if you don't pay attention to the lyrics. Anyway, again Hamilton will and should win, but it's too bad Waitress didn't open another year so Sara Bareilles could get a Tony. She writes good music and lyrics.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Gabriel Byrne, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird
Frank Langella, The Father
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III
Mark Strong, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
I would have nominated Ben Whishaw from Arthur Miller's The Crucible over Jeff Daniels. For me, it's between Tim Pigott-Smith and Mark Strong.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Jessica Lange, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Laurie Metcalf, Misery
Lupita Nyong'o, Eclipsed
Sophie Okonedo, Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird
I completely forgot that Misery happened this season, so I'm impressed the nominators remembered. Laurie Metcalf was really good in it, as she always is. I wasn't a fan of Michelle Williams in Blackbird. Sophie Okonedo was the standout in The Crucible, but I hope it goes to Lupita Nyong'o who was absolutely mesmerizing.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Alex Brightman, School of Rock—The Musical
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton
In any other year, I'd want Danny Burstein to finally get a Tony for his very human portrayal of Tevye. In any other year, I'd want Zachary Levi to get a Tony for his charming Georg and off-the-charts chemistry with Laura Benanti. You're aces, Zachary Levi (yes, that's an intentional Chuck reference). I've been a fan of Alex Brightman for years and he made the role his own, which is not easy considering how memorable Jack Black is in the movie. But I want Leslie Odom, Jr. to win with all my heart. Miranda is great and he wrote the damn show, but Odom is giving what is for my money the best performance of the season. He makes you care about a murderer. I even get chills when I listen to the cast recording because his performance comes through in each note. Edit: I forgot to mention this before, but Ben Walker deserved a nomination for American Psycho.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

I would not want to have to pick between these five ladies. Carmen Cusack was the best thing about Bright Star and the show's most deserving nomination. As perfect as Laura Benanti and Jessie Mueller are in their shows, it's probably between Cynthia Erivo and Phillipa Soo and I'll be happy no matter who wins. I haven't seen Audra McDonald yet, but I'm shocked she wasn't nominated. I didn't know it was possible for her to be in a show and not get a nomination. It was too crowded a year for Ana Villafañe from On Your Feet! to get a nomination, but just want to give her a shout out because she is very natural in the role and channels Gloria Estefan.  

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Reed Birney, The Humans
Bill Camp, Arthur Miller's The Crucible
David Furr, Noises Off
Richard Goulding, King Charles III
Michael Shannon, Long Day's Journey Into Night

I was not expecting to see Richard Goulding here for his Prince Harry, so that was a nice surprise. Michael Shannon was the best thing about Long Day's. I would have probably nominated Rob McClure from Noises Off over David Furr just for his nervous shaking. Anyway, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I'm the president of the Reed Birney fan club and I'm rooting for him, although it's weird that he is considered featured, since he is onstage for most of the play.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Pascale Armand, Eclipsed
Megan Hilty, Noises Off
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans
Andrea Martin, Noises Off
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed
Another perfect category, though it would have also been nice to see Saoirse Ronan on here for her chilling performance in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. I'm glad that both Pascale Armand and Saycon Sengbloh were nominated. As I said, it's hard to take your eyes of Nyong'o, but they made you with their heartbreaking and hilarious performances. Megan Hilty was the star of that production of Noises Off. The Humans makes a good case for ensemble awards, but if I had to give an award to only one of them, I'd give it to Houdyshell. While we're on the subject, here's an interview I did with her and her on-stage daughters.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton
I didn't see Brandon Victor Dixon yet, but I did get to interview him and after hearing him talk about what being in the show means to him, I couldn't be happier for him. Nice to see so many guys from Hamilton on here and I would have been just as happy to see Anthony Ramos and Okieriete Onaodowan, but I think this award belongs to Daveed Diggs and deservedly so. In any other year, I'd want scene-stealer Christopher Fitzgerald to win. I'm sad that Gavin Creel didn't get any award nominations this year for She Loves Me. When the cast recording comes out, I'll be listening to his "Ilona" on repeat. Another dream nomination that I didn't expect to happen was Daniel Durant for Spring Awakening.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster!
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

After Leslie Odom, Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry is giving the performance in Hamilton I talk about the most. She has to win this, but again, what a category. I only knew Danielle Brooks from Orange is the New Black, so I didn't know she could sing like that, but she blew me away. And Jane Krakowski and Jennifer Simard are giving such strong comedic performances. I've heard great things about Adrienne Warren and I can't wait to see her.

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Beowulf Boritt, Thérèse Raquin
Christopher Oram, Hughie
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
David Zinn, The Humans
I barely remember the set from Hughie (or the show, to be honest), Beowulf Borritt should win this. Remember that flat that was basically floating in the air? That was amazing!
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Es Devlin & Finn Ross, American Psycho
David Korins, Hamilton
Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
David Rockwell, She Loves Me
Well, at least American Psycho got nominated for something, and the set was pretty great, but David Rockwell's music box of a set for She Loves Me is so lovely that this is the one category I'd like to see Hamilton lose (I don't think it will).

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jane Greenwood, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Michael Krass, Noises Off
Clint Ramos, Eclipsed
Tom Scutt, King Charles III

I really don't have strong opinions about this.

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting
Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me
Ann Roth, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton
Interesting that this is Tuck Everlasting's one nomination as the costumes didn't stand out to me. Anyway, give it to Hamilton.

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Natasha Katz, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Justin Townsend, The Humans
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller's The Crucible
Jan Versweyveld, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge
I might give it to Long Day's, but they're all deserving.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening
Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Spring Awakening got another nomination! 
Best Direction of a Play
Rupert Goold, King Charles III
Jonathan Kent, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Joe Mantello, The Humans
Liesl Tommy, Eclipsed
Ivo Van Hove, Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge

Ivo Van Hove should have been nominated for Arthur Miller's The Crucible as well, but that's fine. I hope he wins, but I wouldn't be mad if Liesl Tommy or Joe Mantello won.
Best Direction of a Musical
Michael Arden, Spring Awakening
John Doyle, The Color Purple
Scott Ellis, She Loves Me
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

I'm so happy to see Michael Arden on this list. He incorporated the communication struggles of Deaf students at a time when sign language use was forbidden in schools into the story of Spring Awakening without changing a word of it. I saw the first preview in L.A. and interviewed Arden that first week, so it's been exciting watching the show reach more and more people. Anyway, I feel like I'm repeating myself here, but everyone is deserving and Hamilton will and should win.
Best Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton
Savion Glover, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof
Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea
Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan
As I said, I had mixed feelings about the revival of Fiddler, but one of the highlights was the dancing, so it's nice to see Hofesh Shechter on this list. And I know without having seen Shuffle Along yet that Savion Glover deserves his nomination. The highlight of Tuck Everlasting was the ballet at the end, so I would have given Casey Nicholaw Randy Skinner's spot. Actually, I would have probably given it to Spencer Liff for his Spring Awakening choreography that beautifully incorporated ASL. Anyway, congrats Andy Blankenbuehler.

Best Orchestrations
August Eriksmoen, Bright Star
Larry Hochman, She Loves Me
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Daryl Waters, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Hamilton. Nothing left to say.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Q&A with Grace McLean

If you're a musical theater fan, you might know Grace McLean from her performances in musicals like Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812Bedbugs!!!, and Brooklynite. She'll make her Broadway debut in the fall in Natasha, Pierre, reprising her role as Marya D. She also has a career as a singer/songwriter, fronting the band Grace McLean and Them Apples. On Friday, April 1, she and her band close out Lincoln Center's 2016 American Songbook series. Last year, they opened the series after winning Prudential's Invest in the Future of American Song contest. She's releasing a new single in conjunction with the American Songbook concert and her first full-length album is out next year.
In college at NYU (after attending Orange County High School of the Arts in California), McLean studied musical theater, then Shakespeare at the classical studio, and then experimental theater in Amsterdam. "I think all of those things have really influenced the way that I work and have given me permission to be myself in the work that I do," she says. Read on to find out more about her influences, the pop opera that she's working on, and why she gives out goodie bags at her concerts.

Q: What can audiences expect from your upcoming American Songbook concert?
A: I have little goodie bags that I bring for my audience because I like everybody to be pleased with me when I perform, so [last year] I made them do little magic tricks and write down their wishes and blow bubbles. There's going to be more of that this year. I like to call these kinds of shows that I do Grace McLean lives in concert as opposed to live. Just add a little s there because it's alive. It's vibrant. I'm going to have my core band, Grace McLean and Them Apples--bass, percussion, and me and my looper. We're going to do some reimagining of some old American standards that we're maybe going to mash up with some American pop songs. I'm talking Beyoncé and, like, Duke Ellington. I'm going to do a bunch of original stuff. I'm going to do some things from the musical that I'm writing about Hildegard von Bingen, who's this 12th century mystic who was a really powerful, amazing, medieval woman who I'm obsessed with. I'm going to tell some stories. We're going to learn some lessons together. We're going to make some big old wishes come true in a big musical, costumed way. 

Q: How did the name Grace McLean and Them Apples come about?
A: I thought it was funny. We were trying to name the band for my boyfriend at the time. We were looking for a name and a somebody. I think my roommates and I were trying to make each other laugh so "them apples" was out there, but also "these guys," which we also thought was funny. But Them Apples I just thought was so funny and cute and I just liked the idea of when you have your name and the people behind you. And I like it because, "How do you like them apples?" You probably will because they're quite good.

Q: When doing a show like this, how do you come up with the set list?
A: I definitely think of the arc of the evening and how the whole thing is going to work because I want to take everybody on a little journey. Months ago, I started making a list of anything and everything that I want to play and then I have to whittle it down because I don't have three hours to play to people. I just think about the different stories that I want to tell and how I can weave all of those things together, not only in terms of the arc of the set, but also how and when to get audience involvement, and it's not in a scary way. I give everybody a goodie bag and there are different points in the show where we'll do something together that relates to the song that's coming up next just so there's a communal context for everything. And then I also think about how I'm going to surprise people. At my 54 Below show, I had a flash mob of dancers for one song. Last year at the American Songbook, I had a whole horn section that came on at the end, so I'm going to have something like that this year as well. You've gone along for this whole concert, you think you know where you are, and then there's one other big, fun thing that happens that kind of comes out of nowhere.

Q: You've done a lot of musical theater. How do you balance your musical theater career with your singer/songwriter career?
A: It's working out pretty well. They're kind of riding side by side so far, which makes me quite happy. When I have a musical theater gig, that's where I'm focused and that's where my energy is going and when I don't, that's when I have more time for my music, which is pretty great because right now I'm waiting for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet to start at the end of the summer, so I have a lot of time to put out these singles and get ready for the album next year. And the two kind of feed each other. It's great to be able to work on other people's projects as an individual in the whole cog and hone your one specific part and then it's great to be able to take that back when I'm looking at all of my work and being the director of things, making a whole album or a whole song or a whole evening.

Q: Have you learned anything about yourself as a singer/songwriter from the musicals that you've done?
A: I've really learned about succinct, clear storytelling. Sometimes as a songwriter, I really like to be quite personal and poetic and metaphorical and I think that works for songs sometimes, but then sometimes it's like, "How can I be as simple and clear about this moment and make it about one moment as opposed to five within a song? How can I stretch this one feeling over this whole arc and be very clear and have everybody understand really simply what's going on?" Working in musical theater, that has to be done. When I'm writing a song, sometimes that's a whole play. But inside of a whole play, every song has to be its own little moment and there's a little bit of different clarity of storytelling that's necessary. And it's been a good thing to learn that it's ok to do that. 

Q: When did you discover your sound?
A: It's always being discovered. I've been working with this looping station since 2012, which is a little box that records my voice live and then I layer harmonies on top of it or beats or whatever and it's sort of like a little one-man band situation. That's really shaped the direction that the band has gone. But before I had that, it was very pop singer-songwritery. I think you could hear Nellie McKay Regina Spektor. Since I got the looper, it's gotten a little more dance-y or fun and a little bit darker maybe. I'm also influenced by Joanna Newsom and her really idiosyncratic, long-form poetic storytelling. I love the lady storytellers. But also I want to be Robert Plant. I like a good scream sometimes.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about the pop opera that you're developing?
A: Also in college, I studied medieval art, just because I liked it and you can do those things in college. So I came to know this woman Hildegard von Bingen through her artwork. Once I graduated, I kept buying all these books about medieval history and she kept coming up and I was like I want to know everything I can about this woman and I started delving into her and her story. And she's just such an important woman that not a lot of people know about. You know about her if you're in the classical music world. In addition to the crazy artwork that she made, she wrote songs and poetry. She basically wrote the first opera in the west, predating others by like 400 years. She wrote the first mystery play. When you go to theater school, they say theater in Europe started in the church. She did that 100 years before anyone else was doing it. She just had a crazy, amazing, creative, abundant life. But what I'm writing is about the first 40 years of her life where we don't know that much about her because she was locked in a cell with another woman called Jutta von Sponheim. Jutta was an anchoress, which means she decided she was far too holy for this world, so she was going to live her life inside of her own tomb. 

Hildegard was given to the church at the age of eight. You're supposed to give 10% of your income to the church. She was the tenth child, so her family was like, "Just take our kid." And the church was like, "Great. Jutta needs a handmaiden. Go live in this cell with her." So they did. It was these two ladies in a tomb. There was one window through which they could participate in mass and get food and basically your open grave is in there and you just meditate on that and just hang out in there because your body is tied to this world, but as a nun, you're engaged to Christ and death is the best possible thing because you're going to be united with your bridegroom. And we know that Jutta really loved hurting herself, self-mortification, because that sort of pain and denial of the body brings you closer to spirituality. So Hildegard grows up around and becomes a women around this other lady who eventually died when Hildegard was in her early 40s. And Hildegard comes out and then she lives this totally explosive, individual life with this individual voice at a time when individuality doesn't exist. Nobody signs their name on anything. You don't know who anybody is. Especially if you're a woman. I'm interested in what happens in this period of time for 30-some years when these two ladies were together just being quiet and crazy and in darkness. I read this quote somewhere that I loved that Hildegard's life was one splendid vision of dying. And Jutta's was too, but Jutta's life leads her to a literal death and Hildegard's leads her to a life of creativity and celebration of death in life. 

Q: Where are you in the process?
A: I was just at the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals in February and we finished the first draft of it. I have a concert on May 5 at Greenwich House for their Uncharted series to perform all the music as it is now to see what it sounds like all in context.

Q: If you could have anyone come see your American Songbook concert, who would it be?
A: Hildegard! My mom and dad are coming, so that's good.