Friday, December 21, 2012

theatre review BARE, Off Broadway, December 13

The musical Bare, that just opened Off Broadway, is a show that has been around for about ten years now.  While there have been several other productions in the US, this production is the first one to open in NY Off Broadway as an open ended run.   This is also an updated version of the show with numerous changes made to bring the story to current times as well as add a large amount of dialogue that was missing in the previous "rock opera" version of the show.  While this updating was beneficial, and the added dialogue makes the more traditional musical more accessible, Bare is still a show that tells a story we've pretty much all seen before.  And, the overly amplified and at various times screaming pop music detracts from the several songs in the show that are excellent musical theatre character driven songs.  Still, Bare is a good musical, it just isn't a great one.

Bare is the story of two high school boys who are in love.  The fact that they attend a Catholic High School and one of the boys is a semi-closeted nerd and the other a closeted jock only adds to the drama.  Add to the mix a straight couple who have their own issues, including the girl of that couple falling for the closeted jock, drug use in teenagers, the views of Catholicism on homosexuality and your usual teen angst and you have two hours of teen drama that, as I said before, we've pretty much seen before in various after school specials, movies of the week and "special" episodes of tv dramas.  

Taylor Trensch and Jason Hite
While Taylor Trensch and Jason Hite are quite effective as Peter, the nerd and Jason, the jock, either both of them were having a slightly off night vocally or they weren't exactly cast for their soaring vocal abilities.  They are very effective in their portrayals of these two lost boys who find themselves when they find each other, I just wish their voices were more up to handle the challenges of the pop rock score. 

And while most of the rest of the supporting characters were one dimensional, mainly due to the book of the show and not the actors, I really liked Barrett Wilbert Weed who plays Jason's drug dealing sister, Elizabeth Judd as Ivy who had some scandal in her past that made her transfer schools and Gerard Canonico as Matt, who is in love with Ivy and hopes that she is really in love with him.  Missi Pyle as Sister Joan, the one compassionate teacher at the school was quite effective not only in this part of a caring and thoughtful teacher but also as the "dream" Virgin Mary who comes to answer Peter's "911" call.   Pyle was able to handle the demands of the score but even Wilbert Weed, Judd and Canonico struggled a bit, which makes me believe the casting for the show was more focused on finding actors who can sing then singers who can act.
Barrett Wilbert Weed and the cast
Damon Intrabartolo composed the score for the show with book and lyrics by Jon Hartmere.  Lynne Shankel also contributed additional music.  There is much to like in the score with various styles of music and some touching ballads and duets but again, several of the songs have the ensemble screaming their lungs out with most of the lyrics unintelligible.

Stafford Arima directs this production and it is interesting that he decided to direct this show considering earlier in the year he directed the off Broadway production of Carrie, which is also a show set in a high school with plenty of religious overtones.  Arima manages to keep the action moving and focused as well as effectively uses the set in staging the various locales of the show, but I wish he had found a way to better focus the parts of the show where the cast is basically just screaming out the lyrics.

I did like the set design by Donyale Werle, it was simple, yet effective with a couple of moving walls to signify the various rooms at the school.  The use of projections by William Cusick was also a nicely dramatic and theatrical element and quite effective in the ease of showing pictures of the cast since several photos they've taken for school projects figure in to the plot. 

Bare is one of those musicals where there are about six or seven really good songs surrounded by others that are just so-so.  With two leads and a talented ensemble, a nice set design and serviceable direction it manages to effectively get across the message behind the issues surrounding the teenage characters in the show.  I just wish there was less screaming and slightly better singers in the cast.

Official Show Site

Performance highlights from the show:

"Are You There?" Gerard Canonico and Taylor Trensch perform at Broadway on Broadway:

Press rehearsal:

theatre review WICKED, Broadway, December 5

The Broadway musical Wicked is a phenomenon. Having run for over nine years and launched National Tours, a production that is still running in London and various other productions in other cities around the world, it is a show that many people have seen, including many people who have seen it many times. We fall into that later category having attended the show something like five times during the first two years of its Broadway run.

So with relatives coming to town who wanted to see the show, we got tickets and it was very interesting seeing this production with a cast we'd never seen before and a show we hadn't seen in something like seven years. Wicked is a show that definitely has its haters, but there is so much to connect to in the show and so many different themes and layers that it is no wonder that so many people like it and, like us, have returned to it over and over again.

Telling the back story of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she got to be that way and given that name, the musical is based on the best selling novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire.  And while the main theme and characters of the musical are the same as the novel, there are many changes that book writer Winnie Holzman and composer Stephen Schwartz made to make the story and characters more accessible and as a result created a show that so many people fell in love with. The way they were also able to connect this version of the story to things we all know and love from the movie The Wizard of Oz also added another layer to the storytelling.

Jackie Burns
There are many twists and surprises in the story, so I won't reveal too much but the main story follows Elphaba and Galinda, from the time they meet at college to their later years when Elphaba has become the Wicked Witch of the West and Galinda has become Glinda the Good Witch of the North. But, to quote a line from the show, was Elphaba "born wicked, or did she have wickedness thrust upon her?" You see, the musical shows that sometimes what people are told or think they know about a person isn't always the truth, especially when public figures make comments that are really lies about people who are in the way of achieving their personal goals.  The musical has other themes and layers, including that beauty truly is what's inside, that sometimes the worst of enemies can become the best of friends, that a simple personal choice can sometimes create great change and even that stupid, rich and handsome college boys may not be so stupid after all.

Alli Mauzey
The current Broadway cast includes Jackie Burns as Elphaba and Alli Mauzey as Galinda, both of whom completely instill the characters with the drive and power that the original Broadway leads Idina Menzel and Kristen Cheoweth did.  They are also very good singers, though Mauzey was a little weak in the opening sequence, so I was a little concerned, though she quickly overcame that and exceeded for the rest of the show.  Burns is a powerhouse and belts out her big solos, including the showstopper "Defying Gravity" with ease.

Kyle Dean Massey
Kyle Dean Massey as Fiyero was more age appropriate for the part of a college aged kid than original cast member Norbert Leo Butz, and Massey makes a good romantic lead as well as has a nice clear strong voice.   It's easy to see why both Galinda and Elphaba fall for him.  Adam Grupper as the Wizard was fine in the part, though lacks the showmanship that both original cast member Joel Grey as well as the replacement we saw subsequently, George Hearn, brought to the part.  Randy Danson is both perfectly nice and evil as Madame Morrible.

The production still boasts a top notch ensemble and production credits, which is nice to see nine years after the show opened.  I'm assuming that Director Joe Mantello is dropping by every now and then to ensure the production and the cast is up to snuff. 

Wicked is a show that not everyone loves, but as someone who loved it the first time I saw it in previews back in October of 2003 it still resonates today.  It was actually very interesting seeing the show right after the 2012 Presidential Elections had just passed with all of the false information and name calling that was going back and forth against the candidates.  It really makes you want to fact check everything that anyone says about anyone else.

Official Show Site interview with Jackie Burns- including some clips from the show:

Jackie and Alli "Defy Gravity" on Broadway-

theatre review THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, Broadway, Dec. 1

The Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood might just be the show with the most fun currently running on Broadway.  With a top notch ensemble, including Broadway legend Chita Rivera, as well as impressive sets and costumes, Drood is simply smashing.

Created by singer/songwriter Rupert Holmes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood originally premiered in 1985 as one of the Public Theatre's free Summer series of plays in Central Park.  It then moved to Broadway that Winter and won the Tony Award for Best New Musical that season.  This is the first time the show has been revived on Broadway.

Drood is an ingenious show in that it takes the final, unfinished novel by Charles Dickens and turns it into a musical set within a musical that includes the audience voting on the ending.  In doing so it becomes not only the story of what exactly happened to young Edwin Drood but also the story of the actors playing the characters in the musical as well as the audience's involvement in voting on key decisions in the play's outcome.   If Dickens hadn't died before finishing the novel the musical wouldn't be as much fun as it is because the audience's involvement in the last 1/4 of the show, when they help shape the outcome, provides an amazing way for the audience to connect to it.

Jim Norton, Betsy Wolfe, Gregg Edelman, Stephanie J. Block,
Robert Creighton and Jessie Mueller
 The show is presented as if you are at a British Music Hall in the early 1900's. By doing so it gives the actors the opportunity to ham up their parts, coming out into the audience to get them excited, continual interaction from the stage manager as well as having the part of Drood played by a woman. This tradition is known as the "trouser role" as women at that time were never allowed to wear pants except if they were on stage playing a man.  This is something of an English tradition which can be most likely traced back to the time of Shakespeare when originally men played all the parts in his plays, including the women, due to women not being allowed to act. This turnabout is definitely an advantage for us in that it gives Stephanie J. Block the chance to shine not only as Drood but also as Alice Nutting, the actress playing Drood.

Will Chase and Stephanie J. Block
Not only is Block great in her parts, with an amazingly clear voice but the rest of the ensemble matches her as well not only in their vocals but their enthusiasm.   Jim Norton is the Chairman who serves as the narrator of the play that the troop of actors he oversees is presenting for us.  That play, of course, is "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" and Norton perfectly gets across the part of the manager trying to keep his troop of overacting thespians in line.  This includes handling interruptions by the scene chewing cast, managing an actor who has little to do but prays for a bigger role and dealing with Nutting when she gets upset by a decision the cast makes about Edwin's fate. Norton manages all of those tasks and more in a charming yet effective way.

Chita Rivera, Stephanie J. Block and Will Chase
 Will Chase plays Drood's uncle John Jasper and excels in his portrayal of the sneaky, drug imbibing relative who is in love with Rosa Bud, Edwin's betrothed.  Chase is most likely better known for the role he played on the tv show Smash but his performance here is so unlike that character that you most likely won't even recognize him.  Rosa is played by Betsy Wolfe who sings like a bird and looks like an angel but who has some secrets of her own.

Chita Rivera is Princess Puffer, the madame of an opium den who has many secrets herself and connections to several of the people in Drood's life.  While Rivera's British accent comes and goes, she is having a heck of a time in the show, belts out her songs with the best of them and seeing this Broadway legend, who will turn 80 in a month, still having so much fun on the stage is simply infectious. 

Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller
Andy Karl and Jessie Mueller are brother and sister orphans from Ceylon who Reverend Crisparkle, played by Gregg Edelman, is helping to get acquainted with their new lives in England.  Karl and Mueller are hysterical in their portrayals with Mueller exceptionally impressive with her vocal skills, diction and accent.  Karl is no slouch either with this acting and singing abilities and the hilarious accent he and his "sister" are giving us.  While Edelman has less to do and his role isn't as "showy" as the rest, he still manages to give us a character we can identify with.  Robert Creighton is hilarious as the drunken character in the play within the play as well as completely proud of his son who has just joined the acting troop.

Andy Karl and his eyebrows!
The entire cast effectively manages the dual roles they are given.  Karl, Mueller and Wolfe's facial expressions alone are worth the price of admissions.  Actually just Karl's movement of his eyebrows is.  Karl is one of those performers who we've seen in numerous Broadway and Off Broadway shows but this is a breakout role for him and I'm so glad to see him relish the part so effectively.

Since pretty much every one of the cast members has a potential motive for killing Edwin Drood, and because Dickens didn't finish the novel before he passed away, it is up to the audience to vote not on only who Drood's killer is but also on which actors play other key parts in the show.  During this part of the show the main suspects ham it up and chew the scenery with panache.  Since there are multiple suspects and several things the audience votes on, there are over 1,000 combinations on the way the voting could go, so the last 1/4 of the show is never the same.  In fact, at a talk back with the cast that followed our performance we were told that one of the choices we voted on was the first time that this cast had performed that selection.  So the cast has to be prepared for every possible combination of the voting results.

Let the voting begin!
Holmes' score features not only lovely ballads with soaring melodies for the play within the play but also upbeat rousing comical numbers for the Music Hall Royale's troop to sing. Holmes not only wrote the music, lyrics and book of the show, but the orchestrations as well, which is something of a rarity.  This revival features some additional changes that Holmes made to the score and this cast just recorded a cast recording that is to feature many of the possible voting results as well as some music not heard on previous recordings.

Scott Ellis' direction of the show is simply wonderful.  He completely gets the fun and the drama that the show requires but has also found a way to have the joy that the actors are feeling wash over the footlights and out into the audience.  This is especially effective in his staging of the final song of the show, which comes after all of the humorous voting has ended, and is is such an uplifting one that sends the audience out of the theatre on an emotional high.

Warren Carlyle's choreography matches Ellis' direction in getting the fun and joy but also the beauty in the more serious moments of the show.  Creative elements are top notch and I expect many Tony nominations come next May for the show with Anna Louizos' set design and William Ivey Long's costumes not only all beautiful and colorful but also perfectly in touch with the character's, the period and the feeling of being back in the days of the British Music Hall.  Brian Nason's lighting design and Tony Meola's sound design are also effective in setting the mood of the piece and Paul Gemignani gives his usual clear and decisive handling of the musical direction of the orchestra.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one show not to miss this season.  It will make you laugh and possibly make you cry and leave you with a feeling that life is simply wonderful and that the magic of the theatre is alive and well on 54th street.  Drood, while originally a limited run, has just been extended to March 10th.

Official Show Site

Highlights from this production:

Interviews with the cast and creative team:

The original Broadway cast featuring George Rose, Betty Buckley, Cleo Laine, Howard McGillin and Patti Cohenour perform on the 1986 Tony Awards:

Monday, December 3, 2012

theatre review THE ANARCHIST, Broadway, Nov. 27

David Mamet's new play The Anarchist opened on Broadway last night.  And while it is not your typical Mamet play, with no swear words and a major lack of Mamet's usual staccato, rapid fire style of dialogue, it is still your typical Mamet play in that it has manipulating characters and particular attention to the use of language as a manipulation tool.

If you know nothing about this play going into it, for the first 10 or so minutes the setting could be any office space and the two female characters could be co-workers.  But then you discover that Cathy, played by Patti LuPone, is a prisoner serving a life sentence for killing two policemen after turning away from her wealthy upbringing and taking up with a radical group similar to what happened to Patty Hearst.  Debra Winger is Ann the warden/parole board member who represents the state in determining if she is fit for parole.  We quickly also learn that Ann is the only one deciding Cathy's fate, so Cathy does whatever she can to get Ann on her side.

There are two sides to the argument that Mamet presents and while Cathy has had an exemplary record during her 35 year sentence and has found Jesus and written a book about her new beliefs, there are still questions that Ann has about information and the location of Cathy's accomplice and lover that she believes Cathy may know.  And while Cathy attempts to pull out all stops to get released, Ann is basically only going to do that if she gets something in return.  So the big question is really, Who's manipulating who?   Mamet has created an interesting play about seduction and manipulation between two women where language is the seduction tool.

Patti LuPone and Debra Winger
The character of Cathy is somewhat based on Judith Clark, a member of the Weather Underground Organization who was arrested for the 1981 armed robbery of a Brinks security truck where two police officers and the trucks driver were killed.   Clark is still in prison for her participation in the killings.

Mamet directs the play and LuPone proves very capable at handling Mamet's language and creating a character that you want to believe at one moment but then start to doubt the next.   While Winger is playing the less dramatic part she still manages to not get lost in Mamet's words or come across as being taken over by LuPone.  Her enunciation was even clearer and more earthy, stronger and focused then LuPone's, not too bad since this is Winger's Broadway debut.  And while some of Winger's line readings seemed very monotone I have to believe that is Mamet's direction and not a fault of Winger.  This is especially true for the first third of the play when we don't quite know where Winger stands and by having a more monotone deliver it comes across as not being judgemental or having already made a decision, which I believe was a good choice on Mamet's part, assuming that was his intention.

While the dialogue in the play is more closer to the way people really talk then in most of Mamet's other plays, there is still a forced nature to the proceedings that makes it somewhat unrealistic.  The 65 minute running time and the very abrupt ending are also a little odd.

While Mamet hasn't exactly crafted a fireworks type showdown between these two characters and the two award winning actresses that play them, he has created an interesting play that makes you pay attention to the opposite points of view as well as a lesson in the art of manipulation.   Various other themes abound including redemption, religion, politics, humility and even lesbianism. 

The Anarchist runs through February 17th.

Official Website

LuPone and Winger talk about the play:

theatre review GOLDEN BOY, Broadway, November 25

Clifford Odets' play Golden Boy is receiving a 75th anniversary production on Broadway.  Produced by Lincoln Center who gave us an excellent production of Odets' Awake and Sing! a few years back, Golden Boy is mainly a story of the struggle between art and power told from the viewpoint of a young man and his desire for fame and the toll it takes on his life and those close to him.   The show officially opens this Thursday at the Belasco Theatre, the same theatre where the original production played in 1937.

It is 1936 and Joe Bonaparte is a 17 year old award winning classical violinist who isn't fulfilled with his life and so he takes to boxing as a way to find fame and fortune and ultimately prove not only his manhood but also to show others what he is capable of.  The fact that boxing is also a much better way to get back at those around him also doesn't hurt.  As Joe says "you can't get even with people by playing the fiddle. If music shot bullets I'd like it better."

When he finds the right opportunity to step into the ring he does so without letting his family know, as if he is unsure of what his outcome of the match will be.  And even though Joe protects his hands when he is boxing, still thinking I guess about the violin career he may need as a back-up plan, he soon discovers, after much urging from his manager about the need to use his hands in the ring, that he has a powerful punch.  The money starts rolling in but Joe finds himself distanced from his father who was more supportive of his music background.  This separation from his father and Joe's realization of the man he has turned into and what the true cost of fame is quickly becomes apparent to Joe.

Tony Shaloub, Seth Numrich, Dagmara Dominczyk
and Michael Aronoz
However, Golden Boy doesn't just represent the plight of Joe the boxer but also the story of every one of us who struggles to become who we think we should be even if that goes against what our parents want for us.  In that respect Odets has crafted a well written and ambitious ensemble piece with multiple layers and themes that anyone can identify with. 

But this is also a play about one's conscience.  Joe finds himself conflicted almost from the start of the play as there are several male role models he meets during his rise that try to guide him along the way and they all have very different points of view concerning Joe's future.  And while Joe and his father only have a couple of scenes together, we still know that Joe is constantly thinking of what his father is thinking of him throughout the show.  I think Odets must have intentionally kept Joe and his father separated as much as possible during the play as this way the scene in the second act that features a fantastic moment with Joe and Tokio, his trainer and surrogate father, as well as one between Joe and his real father has even more of an impact. 

Yvonne Strahovski and Seth Numrich
Odets was a playwright who presented socially conscious themes in his plays.  Golden Boy proves no exception in its presentation of the struggle between commercialism, and the "get rich quick" but brutal world of boxing, and idealism as represented by the monetarily weak but culturally rich world of music.  While this debate is something still alive and well today it is interesting in how Odets' presentation of this theme mirrors not only the immigrant struggle to fulfill the "American Dream" but also in the way the pull between the two worlds is just like a boxing match with two opponents fighting for the knock out.   Of course it is clear which side of the debate Odets is on with the way Joe gets caught up in the downsides that come with choosing commercialism over idealism and how Joe's choices basically destroy everyone around him.  And this is a tragedy not a comedy and so there is a tragic incident in the second act that is the catalyst that drives Joe's ultimate outcome as well as the fate of one other "lost" character in the play. 

It is a vivid revival full of Odets rich and almost rhythmic language.  And while the final scenes may not pack as much of a punch now as they did 75 years ago this production has a top notch cast, sets, costumes and direction.  Seth Numrich is Joe Bonaparte and he throws himself into the part.  Numrich has the right body language in the beginning to make you believe he is 17 and an amateur boxer but as the play moves forward and a year goes by you see him not only grow up but change into a person Joe wouldn't even recognize.  Even though we don't see him actually play the violin (he plays it off stage) the way he holds the instrument and moves with it before going offstage as well as the gym and locker room scenes in the second act where we see him practicing in his boxing gear gives you no doubt in thinking that he could be both a concert violinist and a boxer.

Seth Numrich and Danny Burstein
Tony Shaloub is Joe's father and even though this is a limited run I pray that the Tony committee remembers Shaloub when the Tony nominations come out as this is a performance that will resonant with many people.  Shaloub portrays Joe's father in a quiet way, the way many Immigrant Italians might have preferred to act in the 1930's so as not to make too much trouble.  But like I said above, with Shaloub's portrayal and the one small scene between Joe and his father about 15 minutes into the play, you know that Joe is always thinking about his father's approval of what he is doing, and that is something that I have to attribute to Shaloub's performance.

Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna Moon is the main female character in the play and while she seems at first to be a very secondary character we quickly learn that she is much more than that.  Lorna is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who has found her way into the American Dream but she is also conflicted in deciding between the easy way to achieve it and the way that will be more difficult.  Strahovski, like Numrich, has the ability to portray much younger then they really are as well as show the journey their character takes throughout the play. 

Danny Burstein is Tokio, Joe's trainer and Burstein is giving another great performance after so many over the past few years.  Tokio is the voice of reason who tries to make Joe understand what he is doing or what he should be doing and like I said above, the scene the two of them have toward the end of the second act is extremely powerful and moving.   Anthony Crivello is the manager who steers Joe toward the dark side and Crivello has the requisite look and feel, all oily and sleazy.  Jonathan Hadary has a small cameo part as the next door neighbor of the Bobaparte's and Hadary gives his typical rich and connected performance.

The play runs almost three hours with two brief intermissions but director Bartlett Sher keeps the action moving but doesn't get in the way of Odets' rich dialogue.  The set design by Michael Yeargan is simple yet effective with several moving platforms, creative backdrops and an impressive gym and locker room setting. Catherine Zuber's costumes are period perfect and Donald Holder's lighting is extremely effective.

Golden Boy officially opens this Thursday night and runs through January 20th.

Official Show Site

Commercial for the show:

Interviews with the cast and creative team:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

theatre review CYRANO DE BERGERAC, Broadway, November 18

Edmond Rostand's most famous play Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the most produced plays on Broadway.  The classic love story of big nosed Cyrano, handsome yet inarticulate Christian and the beautiful Roxane who they are both in love with has received numerous translations from Rostand's original 1897 French version.  The latest translation by Ranjit Bolt written in 2007 is receiving it's Broadway debut in this production that ends its limited run tomorrow. 

With over a dozen productions on and off Broadway over the years, including at least two musicalized ones, and many film versions, Rostand's story is so timeless that even now, well over 100 years since it first premiered, the stirring and simple love triangle and the theme of honor at the center of the story still registers today. 

Clémence Poésy, Kyle Soller and Douglas Hodge
For anyone who hasn't seen a production of this story, here is the basic plot overview.  Cyrano is a cadet in the French army and he is in love with his cousin Roxane, but thinks she could never love him because of his very large nose. He discovers that Roxane is in love with the new recruit Christian and when she asks Cyrano to protect him, the two men form a friendship that includes Cyrano helping Christian woo Roxane with the words he can't quite seem to come up with to proclaim his love for her.  Over the course of many years, Cyrano continues to love Roxane from afar, and even during the war where Cyrano and Christian are sent to fight, he still writes love letters to her but signs them as if Christian wrote them.  The story ends many years later with the truth finally being revealed.

Douglas Hodge and Clémence Poésy
I believe the reason this play has been produced so many times is because Cyrano is such a likable character and deep down each one of us has our own version of a large nose that gives us our own self doubts, so we can easily identify with him.  The fact that he is also very lovable, intelligent, so well with words and still somewhat brash to those who are against him makes you root for him as well.  Also, the use of rhyming verse and the style of the language provide an air of romance with a sense of humor that make you pay attention.  Plus you just have to root for a guy with a big nose as the romantic lead!

Kyle Soller and Douglas Hodge
The trio of actors that lead this production are more than up to the challenge of not only honoring the tradition of this famous story but also to the task of the rhyming couplets that provide the foundation of the play.  Douglas Hodge is coming off his Tony winning turn in La Cage aux Folles last year and has the correct balance of strength, brashness, romance and self-doubt that elevate any Cyrano to the person that anyone with any physical short coming can relate to.  It is a winning and stirring performance and I hope Hodge will be remembered come Tony nomination time for his performance.

Clémence Poésy is a luminous Roxane and it is easy to see why Cyrano is in love with her.  Kyle Soller is a dashing yet youthful Christian and the scenes he has with Hodge and Poésy are lovely.  Patrick Page has the appropriate menace as De Guiche but also shows great empathy toward Cyrano at the end of the play. Seeing this toward the end of the run probably added to the layers that all of the actors are bringing to their parts as well as the relationships they've managed to build with each other throughout the run. 

Patrick Page and Douglas Hodge
Jamie Lloyd's direction is nicely centered with the appropriate tone and attention to ensuring the rhymes land correctly.  The use of the theatre for Cyrano's entrance was especially theatrical and magical and tied directly into the play since his entrance takes place in a theatre.  Bolt's translation is more on the grittier side and includes the use of some profanity that makes the more romantic and poetic moments really stand out.  The previous productions that I've seen have been more on the glamorous side so the combination of Bolt's language and Soutra Gilmour's barren set and costume design was quite effective.

Cyrano de Bergerac is one of those plays that when presented in a good translation, with good direction and a cast up to the task of the material never fails to register with an audience clamoring for a good piece of drama.  This latest production and translation is a touching and lovely production with a cast more than capable of delivering the goods.

highlights from this production:

Friday, November 23, 2012

theatre review A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL, Broadway, Nov 15

The 1983 quirky film A Christmas Story is the latest holiday "classic" movie to get a musical adaptation.  Based on radio humorist Jean Shepherd's stories of being a boy in Indiana in the 1940's, the film and musical follow young Ralphie's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.  The movie can be seen in heavy rotation during the holiday season on TBS and like the film, the musical captures just about every humorous, odd ball and touching moment of Ralphie and his families Christmas story in a whimsical and heart warming style.

It is a well done adaptation with a nice theatrical score, winning performances, fun choreography and a well used ensemble.  After having performances in several cities last year, the show is making it's Broadway debut this season and while I'm sure this musical will have return engagements on Broadway in the future I definitely believe this show will have a huge life in regional and community theatres for years to come.

Dan Lauria and Johnny Rabe
 Centering around a traditional middle class family who is trying to do what needs to be done not only to survive in the 1940's but also to make it through another Christmas season, the musical sticks fairly close to the film and brings to life many of the iconic scenes from the movie as well.  With a book by Joseph Robinette and Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, all of whom are making their Broadway debuts, the musical brings to theatrical life not only the infamous leg shaped lamp but also the scene with a boy licking a frozen lamp pole, Ralphie in a pink bunny suit, the crazy dogs next door and Ralphie's little brother stuffed into a child's snow suit, along with such phrases as "triple dog dare ya," "oh fudge," "fra-gie-leh" and of course "you'll shoot your eye out."  These humorous moments and phrases when combined with the touching story at the core are what have made the movie a classic.  Fortunately the creative team along with Director John Rando and Choreographer Warren Carlyle have managed to not dumb down or sanitize the kooky and edgier moments in the story and in fact have actually made it a more joyous affair with the addition of the top notch songs and very inventive choreography.  I seriously appreciated that the couple of PG-13 moments in the film are still present in the musical version.

John Bolton, Johnny Rabe, Erin Dilly and Zac Ballard
While it helps to have seen the film, even if you have never seen the movie you will find much to like about A Christmas Story, the Musical.  It helps that Dan Lauria is playing the older "Ralphie" who is telling the story of what happened to him and his family during this one Christmas season.  Lauria has the right amount of balance not only in the fondness he has at looking back but also at the memory of all of the things that went wrong in the process of his attempt to get that BB gun.  Lauria provided the same balance in his most famous role as the father in the tv show The Wonder Years so it is fairly a natural transition for Lauria.  And while Lauria is basically only used as the narrator of the story, just like Jean Shepherd was in the movie version, it is a bit of a downside that while he is weaved throughout the show, they really haven't found a way to more seamlessly incorporate him into the show -he still seems more like an outsider to the events happening in front of him.  But that is about the only downside I found in the show.

the very effective kids in the cast
Johnny Rabe is Ralphie and he has the perfect blend of fear, determination and desperation that any child has when they want something but see many obstacles in the way of achieving their goal.  Rabe has a very good singing voice and dances nicely too.  He is the epitome of the nice kid who isn't the most famous or the smartest and has his share of bullies, and so represents just about every one of us at that age.  Rabe has no problem balancing all of his responsibilities in portraying this "every man" kid.  He also has a wonderful relationship not only with John Bolton and Erin Dilly who play his parents but also with Zac Ballard who plays his younger brother Randy. 

Erin Dilly, Zac Ballard, John Bolton and Johnny Rabe
Bolton is also giving a very good performance as the father who desperately wants to win a newspaper contest, even though he has no idea what the "major award" is that he'd win.  It is a nice parallel to Ralphie's quest for the B.B. gun.  And when Bolton wins the prize, the aforementioned "leg lamp" it turns into a very inventive dance number.   Dilly as Ralphie's mom has the frantic 1940's housewife and mother down perfectly.  She manages to keep everything moving along swimmingly even when confronted with a child who gets into fights, a turkey eaten by the dogs next door and that hideous leg lamp.  She also delivers a touching ballad "Just Like That" about how quickly childhood passes.  There is not much to say about Ballard except that he is hilarious and just about steals every scene he is in.  I credit director Rando at having all four of these actors come across so naturally as a family and at how effective Rabe and Ballard are in their roles.

Caroline O'Connor
Rando and Carlyle also exhibit an excellent use of the children in the ensemble, especially during the "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" tap number in the second act that is led by a terrific Caroline O'Connor and featuring tiny nine year old Luke Spring in a winning solo tap.  That number is just one of the very inventive fantasy sequences, similar to what was done for the movie, that also includes the hilarious "Ralphie to the Rescue" Wild West sequence.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score has a nice blend of big splashy numbers, humorous tunes and touching ballads.  Pasek and Paul also composed the score for Dog Fight that ran Off Broadway this last Summer and I expect many more shows from them in the future.  The creative elements for the show are top notch as well with a lovely house set and other colorful set pieces by Walt Spangler, colorful period costumes by Elizabeth Hope Clancy and effective lighting by Howell Binkley.  Because the music and choreography are exceptionally special I think it is important to note that James Gray is the Associate Choreography, Larry Blank provided the orchestrations and Glen Kelly the dance arrangements.

A Christmas Story, the Musical is running on Broadway through December 30th.  I don't need to triple dog dare you to go, just go and have a wonderful time with this crazy and touching family.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the World Premiere production:

Interviews with the cast and creative team:

Press rehearsal footage and interviews with the Original Broadway Cast:

trailer for the movie:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

theatre review SCANDALOUS, Broadway, November 13

Creating a musical must be hard work, especially one that isn't based on a movie or book where all of the plot points and characters already exist.  Kathie Lee Gifford has spent the past ten years honing the new musical Scandalous.   She's steered the show through various regional productions, with different directors, cast members, changing songs and even a changing title along the way.  The musical, which opened this past Thursday has had one consistent all along in addition to Gifford, and that is Carolee Carmello in the lead role.  Carmello is excellent in the role and Gifford deserves an "A" for her efforts and her tenacity to get this show to Broadway.  However Gifford is wearing many hats with this show and her ability as the book writer, lyricist, additional composer and all around press agent through her chatting up the show during her Today Show co-host duties don't fare as well.  Like it's fellow religious based show from last season, Leap of Faith, it is a show that I believe most likely won't be running for more then a few weeks after it's opening night.

Carolee Carmello
The musical is based on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson, the first "celebrity preacher" who saw her own share of highs and lows and the actual title of the show is Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson.   McPherson was a Pentecostal evangelist who had a passion for religion, theatre and life after being exposed to religion at a very young age by her mother and the theatre through her schooling.  Once she met the Irish Pentecostal preacher Robert Semple her journey had begun leaving her boring Canadian farm life behind and with a man that she not only loved but truly admired.  However, after Semple died of malaria while they were missionaries in China, Aimee found herself back in the states and now with a young child.  After a second husband and second child she found herself suffering from depression and near death but she then heard a voice, a voice that in her mind brought her back from near death and having received her "calling" she traveled the country saving souls as a revival preacher.  Her revival meetings included elaborately staged scenes from the bible and her fame which was fueled by the famous people Aimee encountered while in Hollywood like Charlie Chaplin and William Randolph Hearst, all gave her a huge following that helped in her building the over 5,000 seat Angelus Temple in Los Angeles.  She also started one of the first radio religious programs that helped make her known across the U.S.   It is a passionate story with a driven, powerful woman at the center and one understands why Gifford has been drawn to the life of McPherson and getting her story told.   However, it is the series of scandalous events in Aimee's life including romantic affairs, drug addiction, a mysterious month long disappearance and her use of faith healing and those somewhat provocative biblical pageants that give the musical it's title and the majority of the musical's interesting points, points that are at odds with the faith that drove Aimee.

Carmello and the fairly elaborate main set of the show
Framed by the 1927 court case where Aimee was on trial for faking her own kidnapping, Scandalous tells Aimee's story in flashback and while the musical is never preachy it does a very good job of showing the passion that Aimee had for life and religious and her connection to the people she came in contact with. 

Carmello is nothing short of brilliant in the part.  With one of the most powerful voices on Broadway, and a dozen Broadway shows on her resume, Carmello has unfortunately never found a lead role in a show to originate that has matched her talents and allowed her to become the Broadway leading lady she deserves to be.  While Scandalous has provided her with a great part to play, the creative elements of the show have unfortunately let her down once again.

Candy Buckley, Edward Watts and Carmello
Carmello plays Aimee from the age of 17 to her 40's and provides enough shading in her characterization to come across as both the naive teenager in the first part of act one as well as the woman who has seen many things in her life by the end of the second act.  She clearly gets across the drive that Aimee had to get the power and meaning of religion out to the masses and while there was the celebrity that came along with it, especially once she got to L.A. we never think from Carmello's performance that the fame was what was driving her.  And while I think this show won't have much of a run, I do think that Carmello's performance is one that might be remembered come Tony time next May and this show might end up with a nomination for Carmello's performance.

George Hearn and Roz Ryan
The rest of the cast is quite good with George Hearn playing two parts, first as Aimee's father, who provided Aimee with not only a good upbringing but also with the approval of what she wanted to do with her life.  Hearn also plays an L.A. preacher who is at odds with Aimee, mainly around the draw of her church and fame and how it is competing with his church.  Hearn is quite good in both parts, especially in his touching portrayal of Aimee's father.  Candy Buckley is Aimee's mother, and while the role is basically a one note part, Buckley gives the character the appropriate drive and convection that allows us to see where Aimee gets her drive from. 

The Adam and Eve biblical pageant
Roz Ryan is the woman who Aimee meets in a brothel who quickly leaves her Madame days behind to help Aimee on her journey.  Ryan is good in the part, but unfortunately the book gives her the majority of the jokes and while Ryan is up to the challenge, it still sorta turns her into the "big black funny lady" with the big voice who can get the punch line.  Edward Watts plays two key parts in the show, missionary Robert Semple in the first act and one of Aimee's lovers in the second.  He has a lovely voice, and a great torso that he gets to show off in those biblical tableaus.  In fact, he does such a good job in playing both parts that you barely realize it is the same actor playing both roles.  Andrew Samonsky is effective in the small part of the married man who helps Aimee get on the radio and who may or may not have been with Aimee, hold up in a California hotel, when Aimee was allegedly kidnapped in Mexico.   

Andrew Samonsky and Carmello
With music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman and additional music by Gifford, the score has a wide range of songs, but unfortunately none that really register.  David Armstrong directed the show and he manages to keep the show moving along through Aimee's elaborate story.  There is fairly basic choreography by Lorin Latarro   And while some of the creative cast have Broadway credits as performers this is the first time for all of them in these creative roles.

While there are a number of things that are good about this show, there are also many that aren't and sometimes there are things that are good and bad all at the same time.  For example, Gifford's book keeps the action moving along fairly quickly but there are far too many times when Carolee speaks to the audience with a "and then I did this" or "and then I did that" type of narration that is a sign of a weak writer trying to take shortcuts in explaining the action of their story.  The book is also never really clear on the actual events behind the trial.  While I understand that maybe no one really knows where Aimee was during those five weeks, the fact that the trial frames the show and so much of the second act is spent around it, for Gifford not to offer some facts or at least her thought behind the case make the whole point and the entire thrust of the show just fizzle out. 

Carmello and Watts
The score has many different styles of music which is a good thing - this isn't one of those shows where every song sounds exactly the same.  There are many nice songs in the show, with plenty of solos for Carmello as well as varied degrees of duets and ensemble songs.  However, many of Carmello's numbers have the phrasing at odds with the lyrics and music.  In fact the best song in the show is one where Aimee's two suitors are singing a duet and not one for Aimee.  Also most of the songs end with a large booming crescendo.  The sound design doesn't help with the amplification being extremely loud.

Also, the set design by Walt Spangler is fairly elaborate with the main set resembling the pulpit of the church that Aimee built in California.  However, while the side stairs of the set move toward the sides of the stage, they never move all the way off, thus leaving a strange playing space for the action of just the center half of the stage.  And Spangler's set pieces for the biblical tableau's in the second act are inventive and colorful but if you missed the line about Chaplin giving Aimee ideas about her sets you would think they were garish and completely at odds with what would normally be scene in a church. 

While Scandalous isn't the train wreck that many Gifford haters thought it would be, it just doesn't manage to provide an appropriate score and book in line with the passion and life that Aimee had. 

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

theatre review VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, Off Broadway, November 12

Christopher Durang's latest play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike just opened Off Broadway a few days ago and we caught a late preview of the show this past Sunday.  This was actually our second time seeing the show since we saw it's premiere at the McCarter theatre in September (review here.)

While the show hasn't changed since seeing it at the McCarter, the show plays much better at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre then it did at McCarter.  And while the theatre at the McCarter is very intimate, the Newhouse is even more so, with the expansive set filling up the space and the action seemingly taking place just inches in front of you.  The action is so close to you that with the show set on the back porch of a house in the country of Bucks County, PA, audience members in the front row of the theatre had the "grass" of the house's backyard underneath their feet.

Kristine Nielsen, Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Piece,
The show is just as funny as it was at the McCarter and the trio of leads is even more well tuned to their parts.  Kristine Nielsen still steals the show out from her A list co-stars Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Piece, but Weaver and Pierce get plenty of moments to shine throughout the piece. Nielsen's insanely comical impression of Maggie Smith and her heart breaking performance during the phone call she gets in the second act are just two of the reasons to see this show.

Durang has crafted his most accessible play and like I said before, one that I think will have a healthy life after it's New York run.  I wouldn't be surprised with this starry cast if there is a movement to move the show to Broadway.  However, if that move were to happen the experience wouldn't be as good as it is now with the intimacy of the Newhouse Theatre.

Nothing much more to add from what I wrote in my previous review except to say that if you're looking for a night out where you will laugh a lot don't miss Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike playing at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theatre currently running through January 13th.

Official Show Site

Excerpts from the show:

cabaret review BETTY BUCKLEY, NJPAC, November 10

Betty Buckley performed her "Ah Men, the Boys of Broadway" cabaret show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Chase Room this past Saturday.  This concert as I mentioned in my review of the one she gave at the McCarter theatre a few weeks back (reviewed here) contains various musical theatre songs that were all sung by men in the shows the songs come from.

While the show was almost identical to the one she did at the McCarter there was one addition to the evening that stood out.  That was the inclusion of a song that Betty sang in her latest cabaret show she introduced at Feinstein's at the Regency this past October, "The Other Woman, The Vixens of Broadway."  Her new show celebrates songs performed by the second female leads in musicals and the song she sang from this show in her concert at NJPAC was "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" from Evita.  With another beautiful arrangement by musical director/pianist Christian Jacob, Betty delivered a stirring and touching solo take on this song that is performed in Evita by a woman accompanied by two men.   This solo version was extremely effective with Betty completely getting across the ache and pain in the lyrics while also delivering an emotional and yet complete understanding that the affair the women just had who is singing the song is over and it is time for her to move on.  I'm hoping that Betty is able to record this song as well as the other songs from her new show on a forthcoming cd.

Betty is touring her "Ah Men" show around the country, so check out her website for information on upcoming performance dates.

Betty's Official Site 

Betty talks about her "Ah Men" show last year when she premiered it at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York: