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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Titanic Broadway Reunion Concert

First post in a long time, but I was at the Titanic concert produced by Manhattan Concert Productions at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall last night, and it was truly magnificent! Wonderful performances of a marvelous score by an incredibly talented and accomplished cast.  It was wonderful to see so many members of the original Broadway cast together to perform the roles that they originated:

Below is the opening sequence as filmed by TheaterMania:

Monday, December 26, 2011

War Horse, Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, Broadway

In August, I had the opportunity to see War Horse at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. I was looking forward to it both because of the wonderful word-of-mouth, amounts of awards and praise heaped upon the production, and also because of my love for puppetry. I got a seat in the first row by the stage, and I was not disappointed.  I thought that the show was quite spectacular and very heartwarming, showcasing the deep bond between a British farm boy and the horse he has raised and trained that can be hard to explain to people who have not experienced that bond or attraction themselves.

The other theme that War Horse movingly depicts is the depraved inhumanity of war, where humans get caught performing savagely and inhumanely, even if that is not their true nature. Peter Hermann's portrayal of a German officer who realizes the error of his ways and develops a conscience was well-written and well-acted.  I strongly urge everyone who hasn't seen it yet to hurry to Lincoln Center. There is a major cast change happening in January, so there are only a few weeks left to catch the original cast. The cast is quite large, but they form a cohesive ensemble, with many actors playing multiple roles. Watching the puppeteers perform the horses as a cohesive unit is a highlight of my theatregoing experiences.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Catch Me If You Can- Neil Simon Theatre, Broadway.

On Wednesday evening, I had the opportunity to catch Catch Me If You Can before it closed on Broadway. I had been looking forward to the show since its' Seattle tryout because I had enjoyed the film, and I loved Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's score for Hairspray, so I was surprised when many of the reviews and a lot of the  word-of-mouth was mixed-to-negative.  The only part of the production which consistently garnered praise was Norbert Leo Butz's performance as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty.  Even so, I was interested in seeing the show for myself to decide what I thought.

I'm very glad I saw the show for myself, as I thought it was very enjoyable, and much better than I was expecting. One of the conceits of the show is that the format of a 1960's variety show is used as a framing device, which means the entire show is basically one long flashback with commentary. At times, this idea works well, and it times it seems corny or awkward. This was the most uneven part of the show for me.

Norbert Leo Butz is quite hilarious, and I was reminded of his performance in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He does a great job of playing the highly competent but highly lonely FBI Agent following the trail of a young con artist.  Aaron Tveit is quite likeable as said young con artist Frank Abingale Jr, who travels across the US and eventually the world, leaving a trail of bad checks in his wake.  I first saw Mr. Tveit as Link Larkin in the national tour of Hairspray, and I was struck by his talent and charisma back then, so it was great to see him in another leading role. He looks young enough to play a high school student, but also able to mature and play Frank over a period of years.

Tom Wopat appears as Frank's father, a man full of dreams he is unable to achieve. He is obsessed with power, prestige, and money, so he actually approves of his son's shenanigans and lives vicariously through him, especially after he gets divorced and his wife moves in with his former friend. Rachel de Benedet has the smallish role of said wife, Paula, who isn't a fully developed character. She loves her son but has grown apart from her husband, and seems unsure about what she wants out of life.  Also getting a small role is Kerry Butler as Brenda, a nurse at the hospital where Frank pretends to be a doctor, and the object of his affection. She doesn't have a whole lot of stage time, or material to work with, but she does the best with what she is given. Veteran actors Linda Hart and Nick Wyman play Brenda's parents, but have little stage time and little to do except play typical Southern people, although their "Family Tree" song is one of the more entertaining, albeit cornier, songs of the show.

Three henchman accompany Norbert Leo Butz on most of his trailing excursions: Joe Cassidy, Brandon Wardell, and Timothy McCuen Piggee.  Most of their dialogue involves poking fun at their supervisor, or the hapless Agent Dollar (Wardell), an inexperienced younger agent. The scenes are mostly filler, and some exposition about Frank's exploits. The ensemble has a few standouts as well, especially Michael X. Martin in  a flurry of small roles, including bandleader Mitch Miller. Angie Schworer and Alex Ellis were also quite noticeable, on both ends of the height spectrum.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable show, and I'm sad that it closed prematurely, as I believe this show was stronger than some other shows which also opened last season and are still running. I guess being at the Neil Simon Theatre on 52nd St and further away from Times Square could have been a factor, but it's across the street from Jersey Boys, and Sister Act is still further north, so that can't be a main factor.  I wish the cast well in their search for new roles, and it's a shame the Neil Simon lies fallow until Jesus Christ Superstar comes in during the spring.  This show is primarily a visual show, as the songs are a bit hard to remember at this point, but the sets and costumes stay with me.

I apologize for the delay in posting this review, and posting on this blog in general, and I hope to get more reviews up in the next month and a half to close out the year!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sister Act- Broadway Theatre, Broadway

Yesterday I saw the “new” Broadway musical Sister Act, with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glen Slater, book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner and additional material by Douglas Carter Beane. I have always loved the music of Alan Menken, and I have been aware of this show since its Pasadena Playhouse debut a few years ago, so I was interested in seeing what the final product was.

Patina Miller is fantastic as Deloris Van Cartier, a struggling nightclub singer in 1978 Philadelphia who unwittingly sees her gangster boyfriend shoot one of his cronies. One of her songs, "Fabulous, Baby!" is probably the best tune in the show. The role is a bit of a caricature but Ms. Miller does the best that she can and carries the show on her back, as she is rarely off-stage for any significant plot moments or periods of time.  As a result of what she has seen, she is placed into a convent as a way of offering her protective custody until her boyfriend’s trial when she can testify against him.  She has an understandable culture shock upon her arrival at the convent, with its’ lack of materialism and emphasis on earthly possessions in favor of prayers and chores. She makes friends with Sisters Mary Lazarus (Audrie Neenan), Mary Patrick (Sarah Bolt), and Mary Robert (Marla Mindelle), all named after different patron saints. Mary Robert has the most developed subplot, as a timid postulant struggling to find her voice both in and out of the choir room. Deloris, as Sister Mary Clarence, takes over the struggling choir, and teaches them how to sing in harmony and with extra soul, raising the profile of the church. Their habits get more outlandish as their success increases.

Her police contact, Eddie Souther aka "Sweaty Eddie" has had a crush on her since high school.  Chester Gregory makes the most of his limited role and excels at commanding the stage when he is present. He seems to often get stuck in a sidekick or supporting role, and it would be great to see him have a leading role. His solo number, "I Could Be That Guy" features wonderful costume quick changes against the backdrop of bums under a freeway ramp.

Victoria Clark was absent at the performance I attended, and Jennifer Allen played Mother Superior instead. She's a great actress with many solid credits and did a fine job in a mostly thankless role. I wonder how her performance differs from Ms. Clark's.  She has a few songs sprinkled throughout the show, the most memorable being "I Haven't Got a Prayer". Fred Applegate is quite amusing as Monsignor O'Hara who is willing to sell the failing church to the highest bidder for extra funds until the popularity of the church choir changes their fortunes. 

On the other side of the law, Kingsley Leggs plays Curtis Jackson, Deloris' married boyfriend.  He appears to be an ineffectual Shaft wannabe who can only control people by threatening or shooting them. Demond Green, who was wonderful in The Toxic Avenger Musical, plays Curtis' nephew TJ. The character voice Mr. Green uses is one he also employed in Toxic Avenger, and it becomes a little annoying after a while, as it makes him sound retarded and gay. His character is implied to be the former, but I'm not sure that the latter is intended as well.  Caesar Samoya plays Pablo, a stereotypical Hispanic thug who speaks mostly in Spanish or broken English. John Treacy Egan, always a wonderful actor who gives solid performances fares a little better as Eddie, leading a nun seduction song called "Lady in the Long Black Dress". 

Most of the play's humor seems very silly and slapstick, the plot a bit contrived, and the stakes don't feel very high at all, so it's hard to get emotionally invested in these characters. I usually love Alan Menken scores, but many of these songs were forgettable, even within the context of the show. Glen Slater has some bits of inspired wordplay in the lyrics, but for the most part the songs sound like somewhat generic disco/soul ditties, with a bit more of a Broadway bent for the songs sung by the nuns in character (not as a choir).  Still, the only songs that made a truly positive impression are Deloris' "Fabulous, Baby!" and Curtis' "When I Find My Baby". I had read mixed-to-negative reviews of this show previously, and I agree with some of the points that were made about where this show could use improvement. The show is set in a different time/place than the movie and Ms. Miller's characterization of Deloris is different than Whoopi Goldberg's, but other than that, the musical appears to be a faithful adaptation. 

If you have an interest in seeing this musical, then by all means go see it. If you don't have an interest in seeing it, that's alright as well. Movie-to-musical adaptations are often hit-or-miss, and the ones that succeed don't simply recreate the films but rather rework and improve them.  The Producers is an example of the source material being changed and improved.  There are many adaptations I have enjoyed, and a few I have not, but I don't dislike the genre as a whole, as there are many stories that are improved and find new layers through musicalization.   Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Hairspray are examples which come to mind. I expect to see Catch Me if You Can before the end of its' run, and I will continue this discussion about musicals based on movies at that time. In summation, Sister Act is great for families which need something to see together, but otherwise does not live up to its' potential, as has been the case with many of the musicals to play the Broadway Theatre in the last decade, joining Shrek, Bombay Dreams, and The Color Purple as musicals that have somehow missed their mark and fallen short of the gold.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Baby It's You!- Broadhurst Theatre, Broadway

I saw Baby, it's You! starring Beth Leavel last month, and I figured I should probably post a review of the show before the show closed! Beth Leavel is really the only reason to see this show, unless you really have a hankering for doo-wop and girl-group music along with some early R&B.  This show really seems to be counting on the nostalgia factor to bring people in. At the performance I attended, the baby boomers seemed to be eating it up, but it struck me as a very good regional show which was not yet ready for Broadway, as the libretto was quite clunky and slap-dash, not giving much in the way of character development. Many, many songs are crammed into the show for reasons that are not always made apparent.

Beth Leavel stars as Florence Greenberg, the neophyte music producer from Passaic, New Jersey who turns four of her daughter's high school classmates into the girl group The Shirelles.  The girls attain a modicum of fame in the 1950's and 60's until they are superseded by other groups, such as the Supremes, and later on, their style of music goes out of fashion entirely, as artists like Dionne Warwick become popular. Ms. Leavel gives the best performance in the show, and elevates the foolish material she is given. Her character's journey is the backbone of the play, rising from being a Jewish housewife to achieving her potential as a powerful and innovative music business mogul who brought her original thoughts and left a lasting impression.

Allan Louis has the second largest role, as Luther Dixon, Florence's songwriter, co-producer/business partner, and African-American love interest.  He brings a quiet dignity in the role, which is also underwritten and a bit reliant on cliche.  I look forward to seeing him in future productions, as he is a great actor with easy charm and a good singing voice. Geno Henderson plays several small roles of a radio DJ and contemporary entertainers such as Ronald Isley and Gene Chandler.  His singing and dancing works works well to conjure up the vintage styles of the period. He is also saddled with some expositionary dialogue to induce nostalgia in baby boomers, but that's not his fault. And some of the dialogue is interesting.

The four Shirelles are estimably played by Erica Ash, Kyra Da Costa, Christina Sajous, and Crystal Starr, who warble a catalog of hits and change costumes an throughout the evening.  As the lead singer of the Shirelles, Ms. Sajous makes the strongest impression. After her appearances in Rent and American Idiot, it's a surprise to find her a show taking place a half-century earlier. Kyra Da Costa is the best dancer of the foursome, and also has the most Broadway credits, dating back to the original cast of Aida. Considering that these characters start the play as teenagers, the casting seems a bit off, as the foursome don't all appear young enough to play that age, and they don't fully appear to be contemporaries of each other either, so the casting could be tightened in that respect. Most of them has a moment in the spotlight, with varying degrees of success.  Erica Ash is particularly striking and bears a resemblance to Heather Headley.

Other standouts in the cast include Barry Pearl in a dual role as Florence's disapproving, chauvinistic husband and a competing record producer, making the most of his limited stage time. Many of the cast members play multiple roles actually: Brandon Uranowitz plays Florence's son and her business manager, and Kelli Barrett is underutilized as Florence's daughter and Lesley Gore.

The show could be improved by tightening the character relationships and giving them more dimensions, but  at the moment it's the epitome of a jukebox musical that seems more suited to Las Vegas than Broadway. The cast shows promise, but most of them have few Broadway or national tours and as a result are ill-equipped to overcome a lack of direction and a weak book.  If you are looking for a nostalgia kick, then check it out in the two weeks left, but otherwise you are not missing much.

Lysistrata Jones- Transport Group off-Broadway

Last month I had the opportunity to see Lysistrata Jones, produced by the Transport Group off-Broadway at the Judson Memorial Church. I'm glad they were given an extension so that I was able to see it. I meant to post this review before, but given the newly announced Broadway transfer to the Walter Kerr Theatre, I find that it is still very pertinent now.

Lysistrata Jones is a new musical based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, but made for the "High School Musical" generation, as the show's score has a catchy pop sound and the plot revolves around a basketball team and their cheerleader girlfriends. The music and lyrics are by Lewis Flinn, and the pop culture-filled libretto is by Douglas Carter Beane, who also contributed to the librettos of Sister Act and Xanadu, which was also choreographed by Dan Knechtges.

Patti Murin has the title role, as a new transfer student to Athens University who organizes her friends into a makeshift cheer-leading squad for the lackluster men's basketball team who hasn't won a game in recent memory, and doesn't really care about their constant defeats.  Because it's a small cast, all of the cheerleaders are currently dating one of the basketball players, and Lysistrata gets the idea from one of the student librarians to use the same tactics as her namesake, and encourage the cheerleaders to take part in a sex strike until the basketball team wins a game.  Her scheme initially backfires when the boys decide they would rather keep losing and find new girlfriends than give in and actually put effort into playing basketball. The girls also consult a prostitute played by Liz Mikel who serves as the narrator of the piece, playing a Greek goddess in disguise. She counsels both the boys and the girls in their battle of the sexes.

The supporting cast all are great to watch: Josh Segarra as Lizzie's boyfriend Mick, who is also the captain of the basketball team, Alex Wyse as Cinesius, a lilly-white player who thinks he is black, Alex Aguilar as a Hispanic player, Uardo, with raging hormones, and Ato-Blankson Wood and Teddy Toye as the remaining players, who find true love in each other's arms.  Especially wonderful is Jason Tam as Xavier, the social outcast who gets drafted into Lizzie's plans and eventually falls under her spell. His song  is one of the highlights of the show. On the female side, Kat Nejat and Lindsay Nicole Chambers stand out as Lizzie's friends, a fellow cheerleader and a politically-active librarian respectively.  Ms. Chambers' Robin also pursues Mick, with hilarious results.  Katie Boren and LaQuett Sharnell appear as Asian and African-American cheerleaders, but they aren't given as much time in the spotlight.

The show was performed on an actual basketball court in the Judson Memorial Church, which was a great environment for the show, since the audience was very close to the action, creating a feeling of being a bystander in the world of Athens University.  The set, and general aesthetic (costumes, staging and choreography), reminded me a lot of High School Musical, both the stage and screen incarnations, as that show also dealt with the romantic entanglements of basketball players. (Also, Patti Murin originated the role of Sharpay in the Atlanta TOTS world premiere). Douglas Carter Beane's book is filled with pop-culture jokes and a biting humor that also calls to mind Glee in this setting. If you love musical young people, then you will really love this show. If you not get a chance to see the Transport Group run, then I urge you to support the show on Broadway, as it is an original musical with some catchy songs and great moments, and new musicals worth seeing can sometimes be difficult to come by.  However, I fear that some of the intimacy will be lost on a Broadway stage, although I do look forward to seeing it, and I wish the production well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Anything Goes, Stephen Sondheim Theatre- Part II

Last weekend I saw Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Anything Goes for the second time. You can read my review from the the first time around here. "What was the difference this second time around?," skeptical or budget-conscious readers might ask.  And the answer to that question is that there were two understudies on in supporting roles: Linda Mugleston was playing Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt, and Josh Franklin was playing Billy Crocker. I enjoyed the chance to see different takes on the roles, having already seen the original cast perform.  Also having already seen these two performers in other shows, I was looking forward to seeing them take on principal roles in this production.

The star and central focus of the show is still Sutton Foster as Reno Sweeney, who has nearly all the familiar songs in the show's score.  Personally, I believe that her best number is "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" in Act II, which really rouses the house.  The performance of the title number is also very spirited, with the full cast tapping along.

Joel Grey is amusing as Moonface Martin, in a semi-constant state of befuddlement with occasional bright ideas for scams and solutions.  I don't have another actor's portrayal to compare, but I would be interested in seeing different takes on the role.

I thought Josh Franklin did a wonderful job as Billy Crocker. He seemed to have a bit more personality and charisma than Colin Donnell, and did a better job at selling his numbers. He stood out from the chorus in a way Mr. Donnell couldn't quite manage.

Linda Mugleston does the best she can with the archetypal role of a patrician matron, marrying her daughter to the highest bidder to regain the family fortune lost in the 1928 stock market crash. It was great to see her in a larger role again, as I really enjoyed her performance as Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town back in 2005. I hope that she gets the chance to play more leading roles on Broadway.

Still strong in support are John McMartin, Jessica Stone, Walter Charles, and Robert Creighon, all of whom are quite funny and mostly underused.  In the ensemble, Joyce Chittick stands out as "Virtue," Reno's low-voiced Angel with her eye on Moonface Martin. Ms. Chittick is also a former cast member of Wonderful Town, which was also directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, who repeats her duties here.

The show is helped by a great physical production: Derek McLane's sets wonderfully convey the deck of a luxury ocean liner and various staterooms as well.  I am especially impressed by the moving elements. There are a few room cutaways which move on and off, but parts of the deck move inward and outward as well.  Peter Kaczorowski's lighting adds to the mood as well, with many windows which light in different colors over the course of the show, usually in shades of pink or blue.  Martin Pakledinaz provides the many gowns Sutton Foster and her Angels wear over the course of the show.

The show is currently selling out with an average ticket price in the $100 range, so tickets are fairly hard to come by, but if you do get a chance to see this production, I would highly recommend it, as it is quite fun and hearing a Cole Porter score with a fairly large orchestra is always a must for any theater fan.