Thursday, August 25, 2011

cd review ANYTHING GOES, the New Broadway Cast Recording

If you read my review of the current Broadway revival of Anything Goes you know I had an excellent time seeing this production.  Even though there are numerous cast recordings from the many previous productions that musical has had, a cast album of this Broadway revival was made and it has just been released as a digital download with the cd release coming out in September.  

The recording is just as fun and colorful as the Broadway revival, with expert musical direction and playing by the orchestra, full, rich orchestrations and a simply de-lovely cast.  Sutton Foster, who won a Tony for her performance as "Reno Sweeney" sounds just as good as she did on stage.  She expertly handles the belting required but just as easily excels at the comical moments of the duets she has with her two male co-stars, Joel Grey and Colin Donnell.  Her performance perfectly captures the range required for the Cole Porter score, whether it be the comical, quick timing of some of the lyrics, the more bawdy moments of some of the songs or the more quiet and intimate moments.  She clearly shows why she deserved the Tony for her performance.  And, unlike a certain star of the last Broadway revival of this show, you can also clearly understand every lyric she sings.

Grey is in fine form on his songs and Donnell sings like a bird.  While there would be no question that Grey would be able to deliver on the same level as Sutton on their comical duet "Friendship," it is nice to see the relatively unknown Donnell pair beautifully with Foster on "You're the Top."  It is a nice bonus that the recording includes the extended version of that song that is heard in this production with the reprise added on to the end of the song.

The supporting cast has their moments to shine as well.  John McMartin is allowed to display his comical line readings on the dialogue around his song "I Want to Row on the Crew" and Laura Osnes sounds splendid on her songs, especially her second act solo, "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye."  Osnes and Donnell are also simply heaven on "All Through the Night" which has a beautiful arrangement including a very romantic sounding rich vocal support from the ensemble.  Adam Godley, who got a Tony nom for his performance, sounds even better on his solo, "The Gypsy in Me" then I remember he sounded live on stage.

It is no question while this musical receives so many productions and recordings.  The Cole Porter score is one with so many classic songs, and having them delivered by this cast  make this recording a winner.  My only complaint, the title song "Anything Goes" is a slightly edited down version then what's heard in the theatre.  The dance breaks that build the song into a frenzy on stage have been slightly cut back for the recording.  Fortunately, "Blow Gabriel Blow" has the full version heard on stage, including the jazzy new orchestrations, which are simply divine.

The revival is already doing blockbuster business, and if anyone who hasn't seen the show yet listens to this superb recording it should only steer more people to the box office.  A highly recommended recording.

2011 Tony Award's Performance -

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

theatre review - Revisiting Carrie - Off Broadway, August 1

Last night we attended the one night only event entitled Revisiting "Carrie."  Now most people know about my fascination with the musical Carrie, (see my previous post about it here) and last night's event has gotten me very excited about the upcoming Off Broadway production that begins performances in January.  Subtitled "A Behind the Scenes Discussion with Song Selections," the evening featured about 55 minutes of discussion with the creative team and about 25 minutes of performance selections.   

Based on the popular novel by Steven King, Carrie tells the story of a teenage misfit who is bullied at her high school and at home has to deal with her religiously over protective mother.  When Carrie realizes she has special powers she uses them to get back at those who put her down. "A Cinderella story with a vengeance" is how one of the creators summarized it.

The original production of Carrie on Broadway in 1988 closed just a few performances after it opened, but the material, the performances and most of the score left a memory for those who saw it that they simply can't forget.  It was nice to see this mentioned last night by the director for the upcoming production Stafford Arima.  He saw the original Broadway production when he was just 19 and the memories from it stuck with him for years.  

Molly Ranson is "Carrie"
The evening started off with the revised opening number "In."  Originally this was sung just by the high school girls in their gym class but has been completely reworked to feature the boys and girls and it features some amazing vocal harmonies, cleaner lyrics and completely sets up the importance of being in the "in" crowd at high school.  A clear step in the right direction from what opened the show in 1988.   We were next introduced to the creative team by Bernie Telsey, an artistic director for MCC, the Off Broadway theatre company that is producing the upcoming production.   Book writer Lawrence D. Cohen, music writer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford were joined on stage by Arima, and the four of them had a lively discussion about the musical that Telsey moderated.   Other songs from the show were performed throughout the evening and several questions were taken from the audience as well.

Having the three creators of the musical talking about how the original musical came to be and how the past 23 years have made them look at the material and think about it differently was great.  They discussed the original novel, the various workshops the production had, the involvement of the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as how director Stafford Arima reached out to them through his agent three years ago about looking at the piece in a new light.   That phone call resulted in an 8 hour meeting with the four gentlemen that got the musical moving through a two year development process where everything about the original production was discussed, torn apart and put back together again.  Pitchford said that they all re-read the novel and in doing so realized that the novel's extremely effective in telling the story even though it is not told in a linear fashion.  Rather the novel uses yearbook comments, police reports, diary entries and personal accounts of the events to tell the story in a "mosaic" fashion, something they realized they hadn't done with the original version, which was told in a simple linear way.  They didn't say if they've now changed the show to be less linear, but from the ending of one of the songs we heard performed, it does appear that the show will now be told in flashback. 

Marrin Mazzie is Carrie's mom
They also discussed that while they had originally thought to keep the show set in the early 1980's, they've since realized that the events in the story, especially those around bullying, are so prominent today that they've decided to set the story in present time.  Something Pitchford said required them to go back and change details in every aspect of the show - book, music, lyrics, direction, sets, costumes and choreography.  But, they all agreed that in doing so, it makes the piece stronger.  I have to say that the modern vocal arrangements by Ann Marie Milazzo we heard for "In" were so amazing that I'm glad they made this decision.

Gore commented that 10 of the original songs from the 1988 show are no longer in the new version.   I'm not certain if he meant that they are completely gone or just no longer in their original form - as "In" still had the same melody but has about 75% new lyrics and arrangements and the title song "Carrie" - performed by Molly Ranson is about 50% the same as it was originally.  We did get a completely new song "You Shine" performed by "good girl" Sue (Christy Altomare) and Tommy (Derek Klena), which replaces the solo song Sue had in the original production, ''It Hurts To Be Strong."  And the evening ended with Ranson and Marin Mazzie who plays her mom, Margaret, singing their song when Carrie is leaving for the prom, as well as Margaret's act two solo "When There's No One" - both of which are virtually unchanged from the way they were heard in 1988.  Ranson and Mazzie were extremely effective in both their songs and dialogue scenes and the ensemble sounded great as well.  I'm not certain if the cast we saw last night, beyond Ranson and Mazzie, will be the cast we see come January, but if it is, I think we're in good hands.

The poster design for the 1988
Broadway production
While hearing the songs was the big highlight of the evening, there was also a very interesting discussion about the choice of Terry Hands as the director of the 1988 production as well as some of the directors who were first approached about directing the original production.  Both Mike Nichols and Bob Fosse had discussions with Gore, Pitchford and Cohen, with Fosse wanting to take the show into a dark place that was darker than any of the three creators wanted to go.  It was mentioned that the one musical Hands directed before Carrie was one in the UK that both Gore and Pitchford left at intermission, but with his success in directing plays with the RSC and the RSC's decision to fast track the musical into a production at their Stratford Upon Avon home, made them think he was right for the job.  He was a "gentlemen" and had a nice accent as well, they mentioned.  It wasn't until they were deep into rehearsals that they realized he wasn't the right choice.  

Pitchford also commented that when you are three people doing a Broadway show for the first time you should surround yourself with veterans who have experience in something you're new to.  With Carrie, Cohen, Gore, Pitchford, Hands and choreographer Debbie Allen were all making their Broadway musical theatre creative debut.

So, all in all, a very interesting and engaging evening that will hopefully get some good buzz generated for this production.  Though the fact that this one night only event sold out fairly quickly and that there is still so much discussion about this show, I highly doubt this evening was necessary to sell more tickets than they would have sold without it.  

I might be getting ahead of myself since previews haven't even started yet, but I truly believe that this production will be a success and will finally result in a recording of the music that so many people have been dying to have in their possession.  I also believe that the fact that this is being done Off Broadway, with a smaller cast and orchestra compared to the 1988 production, will mean that the profitability and future life of the show will be stronger, as many regional theatres would be able to put this production on due to a lower cost base compared to the previous production that had a cast with 10 more members.
MCC subscriptions are on sale now, which is the only current way to get tickets to this show, with single tickets for Carrie going on sale in October.  January can't get here fast enough!

Monday, August 1, 2011

theatre review DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, Off Broadway, July 31

Death Takes a Holiday, the musical based on the play and film of the same name, is an engaging tuneful show having it's world premiere Off Broadway.  With a score by Tony Winner Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic, Grand Hotel) and a book by Tony Winners Peter Stone (1776, Titanic, Will Rogers Follies) and Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) it definitely has Broadway pedigree on it's side.  Add in one of the best ensemble casts around that consists of actors with many Broadway credits and you have a show that delivers on almost everything it sets out to accomplish.  With just a few minor quibbles, it is also a show that I enjoyed a lot.

Ovenden and Paice
The musical is based on the original Italian play written by Alberto Casella that was rewritten in English by Walter Ferris and first premiered on Broadway in 1929.  The plot of the show is fairly simple, Death decides to take a weekend off to see what life is like as a mortal.  The setting is a beautiful lakeside Italian villa in 1921, home to the young, beautiful and recently engaged Grazia Lamberti (Jill Paice), her family and a few close friends who are visiting for the Summer.   When the show begins, Grazia is involved in a serious car accident where she is thrown from the car.  The accident starts the plot in motion as Death is caught somewhat off guard by Grazia, leaves her unharmed from the accident and, wondering why people fear him so, decides to take the weekend off to see what life is really like as well as to spend more time with Grazia.

Luker and Silberry (center) and the cast
Now while I enjoyed the show overall, there were just a few points that I think need to be slightly addressed.   To start off, the first few scenes of the show make it come across as very serious in tone but there there are many humorous moments that come later, which correctly set the tone as more of a light comedy in the vein of Blithe Spirit.   The humor obviously adds to the enjoyment and provides many moments for the cast to shine, but is slightly at odds with the extremely serious nature of the first 10 minutes of the show.  The ending of the show is also a little bit unfocused, not to give anything away, but let's just say that while it is a solid conclusion to the story it leaves some slight unfinished business as well as is a little too simplistic and anticlimactic compared to some of the high points that come before it.

Cavenaugh doesn't show up until an hour into the show
but delivers an emotional powerhouse of a song.
However, the score and book are in very fine form and the cast and direction are just about perfect in every way.  The production elements, while a bit on the simplistic side are used effectively and the costumes by Catherine Zuber are simply exquisite.

Also, the fact that this is a show that makes you think is a positive one.  And the fact that it makes you think about death, and if death actually exists as a person what he must be thinking and wondering about the living, is a nice added touch and something I was glad to experience and had never really thought about before.  And it isn't one of those cerebral shows where your head hurts from thinking and trying to connect things together, but one that makes you think and feel. That it is also a show that touches upon love and loss and how people grieve make it into something that I also wasn't expecting.  

Socha and von Essen have a comical duet in the second act
Jill Paice perfectly captures the free spirited Grazia, someone who isn't afraid of anything.  She also sings exquisitely.  Besides Paice, the cast includes Rebecca Luker and Michael Siberry as her parents, Max Von Essen as her fiancĂ©, Matt Cavenaugh as her late brother's friend, Mara Davi and Alexandra Socha as her friends and Linda Balgord and Simon Jones as her grandmother and her doctor.  Now, this production also stars Julian Ovenden making his New York Musical Theatre debut in the lead role.  Ovenden has starred in many UK musicals, but this is his first NY one.  However, Ovenden came down with a very bad case of laryngitis a few days before the show's opening night and has now been out for 14 performances, including the one we saw.  I had heard good things about him so was somewhat disappointed that he was still out, however, I shouldn't have been concerned as his understudy Kevin Earley completely embodied "Death," sang and acted the part exquisitely and completely held his own on stage with actors who have had years of Broadway experience.  I was actually glad to have seen the understudy and can't imagine how Ovenden is more effective in the part than Earley is.

The score includes many nice elements.  Besides the beautiful love songs for Graizia and Death, there are also many beautifully sung ensemble songs as well as a gorgeously arranged trio with the three young ladies, a touching ballad about lose from Luker and an all out male belting song "Roberto's Eyes" by Cavenaugh.    These are just three of the many songs that let the ensemble shine.   Every member of the ensemble is given something to do and they all effectively bring their characters to life.   It was especially nice to see Luker and Silberry playing a couple again as they last were together on Broadway when he was the Captain and she was Maria in the 1998 Broadway revival of The Sound of Music.  Both Max von Essen and Matt Cavenaugh are perfectly cast as well, and while von Essen isn't given a solo and Cavenaugh doesn't appear until about an hour into the show, they both make their characters into more than just cameo parts.  Simon Jones and Don Stephenson also have many moments to make their characters, the Doctor and the Butler, respectively, into fleshed out ones.  Stephenson gets most of the humorous moments and knows how to perfectly play them.  Davi, Socha and Balgord are also perfect in their parts, with each of them making their characters complete individuals.

This production runs into early September, but I do believe that this show will have a healthy life ahead of it due to not only it's recognizable title but the fact that it has a relatively small cast and creators with names like Yeston, Stone and Meehan.  So I expect many productions at regional theatres in years to come.

Highlights from the show -

25,000 Pageviews!

Wow, not sure what to say, but thank you to everyone for checking out my blog!   I took a couple of weeks off but will have posts up soon about Death Takes a Holiday and the Carrie "preview" tonight as well as some classic and new film reviews - so keep checking out my blog, and "thanks" again!