Tuesday, April 24, 2012

theatre review, NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, Broadway, April 23

When Crazy For You opened on Broadway twenty years ago it was hailed as "the new Gershwin musical comedy" even though George Gershwin had been dead for over 50 years.  So, it's surprising that the producers of the new Broadway musical Nice Work If You Can Get It aren't billing this show as "the newest Gershwin musical comedy" since, like Crazy For You, this new show is a re-working of an earlier Gershwin musical, but with a new book and with the addition of other Gershwin songs.

Based on the 1926 musical Oh, Kay!, Nice Work If You Can Get It features classic Gershwin tunes from that show as well as other Gershwin shows including "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Fascinating Rhythm," "But Not For Me," and "S' Wonderful."   It stars Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara and officially opens on Broadway tonight.

Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Broderick
  Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall and with grounded comedic performances by Broderick, Michael McGrath and Judy Kaye, Nice Work If You Can Get It is a throw back to classic musical comedies of the past.  Kelli O'Hara gives another one of her well thought out takes on an unordinary character, in this case a tom boy bootlegger. With some inspired choreography, a well honed book by Joe DiPietro and those wonderful Gershwin tunes, this show is definitely the most fun and funniest musical this season.  It is a modern screwball comedy that puts a smile on your face from pretty much the beginning that you will still have on your face when the show ends.

Terry Beaver, Estelle Parsons,
Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Broderick
Broderick is the wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter.  The show begins on the eve of his upcoming fourth marriage when he stumbles upon female bootlegger Billie (O'Hara) after a drunken night of partying.  It is 1927 and prohibition is still in full force so O'Hara is more concerned where to store her huge inventory of gin then falling in love. But sparks fly when Broderick plants a drunken kiss on O'Hara.  Of course we know from the beginning that by the end Broderick and O'Hara will be together, but DiPietro's book finds plenty of obstacles to get in the way of our stars having a "happily ever after" ending.  The fact that the father and aunt of his soon to be wife are a Senator/Judge and a prohibitionist, respectively, only adds to the drama. 

Matthew Broderick shows once again how effortless he is at comedy.  Not only is he given plenty of funny moments, but he sings many songs and dances as well.  It is nice to see Broderick in another musical, and one where he looks like he is having so much fun.  He also gets to wear some really nice costumes. O'Hara isn't given a lot of frilly dresses to wear, instead often wearing pants and jackets more associated with someone you'd see working around the docks of New York City, but she still looks great, and wraps her lovely soprano voice around many classic Gershwin songs.  She too looks like she is having a great time and her scenes and dances with Broderick are highlights of the show.  They have one solo dance number that brought the house down.

Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath
McGrath is O'Hara's bootlegging partner and he and Judy Kaye are the supporting comedic stars here who both fortunately get plenty of material and scenery to chew along the way.  I would be very happy to see both with Tony nominations in a few weeks as they are both so good with their comic abilities, solid in their character portrayals as well as both get some nice Gershwin songs to sing, including Kaye doing an over the top delivery of "Looking For a Boy" in the second act.

Also in the cast are Jennifer Laura Thompson as Broderick's fiancee and Estelle Parsons as his mom.  Thompson isn't given a lot to do but she is perfect as the fortune hungry woman who is only looking out for herself and while Parsons doesn't show up until the last 15 minutes of the show, she is given some rich material to deliver.

Like last year's Anything Goes, that she also directed and choreographed, Marshall has proven herself perfectly capable of directing a new musical comedy as well as being able to hone excellent performances from a fairly large ensemble cast.   Her choreography for Nice Work If You Can Get It is both fresh and funny. Her stars are all over the stage, dancing on the furniture, the staircase of the mansion, sometimes lifted high above like up on a ladder and Broderick is even lifted up by the female ensemble as well as rolled along the backs of the male ensemble.  All of these moments add funny touches to the already funny show.  Marshall's use of various set pieces from a bathtub or a bed to a chandelier to bring out the humor in the piece are also the signs of a director who knows how to accurately use what they've been given to make the whole more than the sum of the parts. 

A lovely set design by Derek McLane provides some huge Long Island Mansion surroundings including the front, inside and garden of the mansion as well as various bedrooms and a bathroom.  Costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are rich and elegant but also simple when necessary like the street close costumes for O'Hara and McGrath.

If you're looking for a fun night out with A list Broadway starts look no further than Nice Work If You Can Get It.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show:

Monday, April 23, 2012

concert review, AUDRA MCDONALD, NJPAC, April 20

Audra McDonald is a consummate performer.  With an incredibly clear soprano voice, an intense emotional connection to every song she sings as well as a down to earth personal perspective it is no wonder she has won four Tony Awards for her various Broadway performances.  This last Friday night she took a night off from performing in the Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess and with only one slight misstep her concert with the New Jersey Symphony Chamber Orchestra was a stellar affair.

The concert provided a perfect combination of songs from contemporary composers from Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb and Jason Robert Brown to songs from the Gershwins and Irving Berlin.  "When Did I Fall in Love?" from Bock/Harnick's musical Fiorello provided a perfect beginning to the concert with it's various emotional moments including several that truly allowed Audra's voice to soar to the rafters.  The cabaret standard from Jason Robert Brown, "Stars and Moon" is a song that allows a performer to not only sing a good song but tell a story that has moments of humour, deep thought and meaning as well.  Audra delivered the emotional and humorous moments perfectly actually getting the comical bits better than I've seen other performers get.  However, she might have scaled back just a bit on the slightly operatic vocal flourishes to the song that seemed to ultimately overshadow the simple meaning of the material.   This was the only song in the evening where Audra's delivery could have been turned down just a bit.

Audra mentioned that the next two songs "My Buddy" and "I Double Dare You" were the oldest songs in the concert, but the lyrics and music for both are so contemporary and Audra's delivery of both is so perfect that it is hard to believe these were both written so long ago.  Her personal comments about these two songs as well as the stories she told about her connection to every other song in the concert is what elevates her performing skills from someone who just comes out and sings a series of songs.  By personalizing each song it helps us not only to understand why she chose to sing each song but also feel like we know more about Audra McDonald the individual.

Audra talked about her daughter and how one day when they were listening to the Broadway channel on Sirius XM satellite radio that her daughter said that she should sing the song that was playing.  Audra mentioned how that song, "He Plays the Violin" from 1776, was from a show she wasn't originally that familiar with.  She talked about how the plot of that show centered around the fight for the Declaration of Independence and how her daughter and her two soon to be step-sons staged an "occupation living room" one night and came up with their own declaration requesting things like the right to stay up late.  She then gave us a crystal clear performance of the song with her voice filling the large space of the NJPAC auditorium.

Irving Berlin's "Moonshine Lullaby" from Annie Get Your Gun is a song that provides a lovely lyric with a lush musical accompaniment.  Audra's delivery was touching and heartfelt.  She followed this with Stephen Sondheim's "Moments in the Wood" from Into the Woods and managed to hit every emotional and comic note the song requires and truly made this into a major highlight of the concert.   Audra briefly spoke about her connection to the various Marriage Equality rallies and sang the song she often sings at these gatherings, the Gershwin's "He Loves and She Loves" from Funny Face.   This is a lovely song with a simple message that "love is love" and Audra's delivery of it was spot on.

"First You Dream" from Kander and Ebb's Steel Pier is a song from a flop show that has a lovely message that anything can happen as long as you dream.  The orchestration for this was simply stunning and provided a perfect accompaniment to Audra's stellar vocal.  Audra mentioned that her father died in a plane crash almost five years ago and that this song with it's connection to flying was very personal to her since her father loved to fly.  She also mentioned that her father often commented on why she didn't play the piano in her concerts so she sat down at the piano and delivered "Migratory V" from Adam Guettel's Mythms and Hymns.  Her performance of this song was especially meaningful after her comments about her father.

Next Audra sang a song that she said she never wanted to sing as everyone had sung it, but she realized that "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady was one that she needed to get over herself and sing.  Her delivery of this song was simply astounding, though while having the audience sing along during the chorus parts added a nice touch it would have been just as lovely to hear Audra sing the entire song alone.

Audra commented on how her daughter never let her sing any lullabies to her when she was a child, often saying that her mother's singing "made my ears cry" so Audra said that we would have to be the ones subjected to her singing of lullabies.  She sang a lovely pairing of "Whose Little Angry Man" from Raisin and "Baby Mine" from Dumbo.   Audra spoke about her Julliard training in Classical voice and then sang an extremely humorous song called "Craigslist Lieder" that uses actual text from Craigslist ads set to a modern classical composition.

Audra talked about the Kander and Ebb musical Scottsboro Boys and the significance of the actual events of that show where twelve young African American men were falsely accused of rape. She then sang the touching song "Go Back Home" from that show, hitting all of the right emotional notes and with a lovely orchestration accompanying her.

Audra mentioned how the young songwriter Adam Gwon won the Fred Ebb award two years ago which is an award that provides a cash prize to allow songwriters to keep writing instead of having to worry about where there rent money is coming from.  I've heard other songs that Gwon has written and am happy to hear that he won this award.  She then sang Gwon's "I'll Be Here" from his show Ordinary Days, is a contemporary story song about the effects of September 11th on one person.  It is a lovely simple story song with a huge emotional impact. 

Audra talked about how that day touched everyone, but most of all those of us in the New York City area.  She said the events of that day have always made her think about what's most important in life and how easy it is to take things for granted.  She said that one song that she loves that it is really about holding on to what's most important is the Jule Styne, Comden and Green song "Make Someone Happy" from Do, Re, Mi.  She then sang an incredibly touching and moving version of the song with a lovely orchestration.

Audra talked about Lena Horne and how she was asked to sing at Horne's funeral.  She then sang the rousing "Ain't It De Truth" by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg from the musical Jamaica that was sung by Horne to close out the show.  This provided a high energy end to the concert.  

The one misstep that Audra made was to not do an encore despite the roaring ovation from the audience.   I understand that she did have two performances of Porgy the next day and even mentioned she had to be up early for softball pictures for her daughter around 8am - but by not providing an encore it seemed like she was in some way dissing the audience.  If she was trying to keep her concert to 90 minutes she could easily have cut one of the earlier songs and simply sang it as an encore instead and had the show be the same length it was, but giving the audience what they came for.  By not giving an encore it seemed like she was in some way short changing the audience.

Friday, April 20, 2012

theatre review PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, Broadway, April 12

Peter and the Starcatcher is a new play based on the children's novel of the same name by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  After a successful Off Broadway run last year it opened on Broadway this past Sunday.  Telling the prestory to Peter Pan and how an unnamed orphan became to be the famous boy who wouldn't grow up, the play is a magical and theatrical show with a top notch ensemble cast led by Christian Borle, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Adam Chanler-Berat as Peter. 

Directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, the play benefits from Rees' experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Nicholas Nickleby. That show, which had an ensemble cast portraying dozens of characters with minimal sets required an audience to imagine.  And that same sense of expectation for an audience is at the core of Peter and the Statcatcher.  Playwright Rick Elice has effectively crafted a play from the novel where the cast of 11 men and one woman portray about 100 different characters.  Fortunately, the imaginative set design by Donyale Werle, superb lighting design from Jeff Croiter and some basic props also help the audience easily imagine everything from a ship's hold where Peter and his fellow orphans are kept to a giant crocodile's mouth. 

Christian Borle, Arnie Burton, Celia Keenan-Bolger
and Adam Chanler-Berat - note how a simple piece of
rope is used to portray a ship's confined drawing
room.  This is from early in the show before Borle
becomes "Black Stash".
 The three leads couldn't be better than they are with Adam Chanler-Berat giving a simple and effective portrayal of a lost boy who becomes a natural leader and Celia Keenan-Bolger as the spirited young girl who has no problem facing danger head on.  Bolger is giving a feisty performance. 

But it is Christian Borle who is the knockout here. I had heard about his performance being the one to watch and was a bit concerned since he stays in the background for the first 30 minutes of the show playing various small parts as well as helping portray various set pieces (see the pic on the left where he is holding a model boat and a piece of rope.)  However once his character of Black Stash (the Captain Hook part) appears there is no stopping Borle.  He is a perfect comic, ringing every nuance out of every small comic gag and when he gets his hand cut off it becomes a master class in how to make a few words and expressions achieve pure comic genius.  His is a performance that you will remember for a very long time.  It is nice to see Borle, who we've seen in several Broadway and Off Broadway shows having a great year- not only with his lead role on the tv show Smash, but now also with his performance in this play.

The rest of the ensemble cast all get moments to shine but I especially liked Arnie Burton who plays Keenan-Bolger's maid Mrs. Bumbrake and Kevin Del Aguila who plays Smee.  They both brought the appropriate level of zaniness required to this type of production.  Rick Holmes as Keenan-Bolger's father was also very effective in the staunch, more subdued part of an English Lord.

Kevin Del Aguilla and Christian Borle
Peter and the Starcatcher includes music and a few songs written by Wayne Barker.  The musical underscoring provides a nice and appropriate element to the production and the second act opening, which has all of the cast as singing mermaids, was a big highlight that got a lot of laughs and applause from the audience.

Now, like One Man,Two Guvnors, the beginning of Peter and the Starcatcher is also a bit muddy and takes a small amount of time for the various components to gel into the magical experience that it truly becomes.  It's too bad about this one small downside to this show as the beginning is what needs to hook the audience into the concept of the production instead of the slow and slightly unfocused beginning this production has.  There were even a few people who left within the first twenty minutes.  It's too bad they didn't stay as they not only missed Borle's genius moments but also all of the theatrical magic that comes as the show progresses as well as the somewhat emotional ending. 

I have to mention Jeff Croiter's lighting again as it is so expertly used and made me once again realize how effective lighting can be when used correctly. 

Peter Pan and most fairy tales require the person reading them to imagine and that sense of imagination is exactly what Peter and the Starcatcher is helping to bring to the theatre.  Highly recommended.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

theatre review ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, Broadway, April 8

In the new Broadway comedy One Man, Two Guvnors, James Corden is giving a hilarious performance that will most surely see him earn a Tony nomination for his efforts.  The play itself is a mash up of British Music Hall comedy, a variety show and farce and while it runs a tad too long, is still a fun show with some very funny performances

The play by Richard Bean is an updated homage to the Italian commedia classic The Servant of Two Masters written by Carlo Goldoni in the 1740s.  That play focuses on a harlequin who gets into comical situations while working for two bosses.   One Man, Two Guvnors, updates the locale to Brighton in the 1960's with the harlequin now a simple British man, Francis Henshall, who finds himself working for two bosses - one is a criminal in hiding, the other a local gangster who just recently killed a man.   Henshall, believing he has hit the jackpot by having two jobs at the same time, relishes in his new found wealth but with his constant cravings for food and women he unfortunately can't keep the two jobs straight while he also continually attempts to keep his two bosses from meeting each other. Hilarity ensues, along with about 10 original songs sung by a Beatles inspired band that are used as scene change filler as well as a preshow and intermission novelty.

Suzie Toase, Oliver Chris, James Corden and Jemima Rooper
Bean has done a pretty good job in combining the elements of farce with variety and music hall that includes mistaken identity, food fights, secret identities and the character of Hensall constantly breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience- a few of which find themselves up on stage.  Bean has crafted some great gag moments that provide Corden plenty of opportunities to show his comic abilities.  Now, the first 10 minutes of the play are slightly lackluster and with the somewhat thick English accents take a very focused effort to understand just what is going on.  Fortunately once Corden enters as Hensall, the energy of the show rises to a level that is kept for most of the remainder of the play. 

Oliver Chris and Tom Edden
The original songs by Grant Olding, sung by the Beatles-esque quartet, provide an interesting element to the show.  While they are period perfect, and there are references to the boys from Liverpool in the play, the songs, while fun and upbeat, sometimes go on a little too long and since there are only a few times when the songs themselves turn comical they end up stretching the play out.  The play, which runs 2 1/2 hours, would be funnier and tighter if all of the songs didn't end up running 3 to 4 minutes each.  I understand that they need the songs to cover some of the more elaborate scene changes, but some of the musical sequences could have easily been cut in half to keep the hijinks on stage from needing to be jump started every time a song ended and the play started up again.

James Corden and Jemima Rooper
Many members of the Broadway cast, along with Corden, starred in the 2011 UK version of the play that was a big hit in England.  Oliver Chris and Jemima Rooper as the two "Guvnors" in particular are spot on in their portrayals of their characters as well as in the specific style of acting the play requires.  Rooper, who plays a women who masquerades as her dead twin brother for most of the show perfectly gives two different performances depending on which character she is portraying.  I also enjoyed Suzie Toase as the sexy Dolly and Daniel Rigby as the young man who wants to be a serious actor.  Both perfectly exhibited the look, style and feel of 1960's England as well as the style of acting required for a comical, British farce.  Also, Tom Edden is the buffoon who ends up stumbling down stairs, being hit by doors and many other pratfall encounters.  He is a genius at physical comedy.

But Corden is the star here and he is a comic genius, expertly interacting with the various oddball characters on stage, providing plenty of funny bits with his many interactions with the audience and perfectly and easily gets the humor in the many gags he takes part in.  He also comes across as a very lovable harlequin which provides some heart to the whole affair. Corden will clearly be a Tony nominee come May as Best Actor in a Play.

Mark Thompson created the sets and costumes and he has created some simple yet effective pieces, including a lovely Brighton backdrop and an excellent set of stairs that descent down into the stage.  Director Nichols Hytner keeps the lunacy going and has crafted, along with Bean, some very inspired moments.

One Man, Two Guvnors is definitely the funniest show on Broadway right now and it officially opens tonight.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

theatre review LEAP OF FAITH, Broadway, April 5

The new Broadway musical Leap of Faith is yet another musical based on a movie.  This time the film is the 1992 movie that starred Steve Martin as a con man posing as a preacher who travels with his flock from small town to small town bilking the locals out of their money and skipping town as quickly as he can.  For Broadway, Raul Esparza is playing Jonas Nightingale, the Martin role and Jessica Phillips is the female lead.  We caught an early preview of the show last week. 

The plot is fairly straight forward and nothing that you haven't seen before, as well as one where you can easily predict the outcome.  Once Jonas' bus breaks down in Sweetwater, Kansas, a small rain starved town, he is forced to stay there until the replacement bus part can arrive and he falls for the local widowed female sheriff who has a crippled son.  Can the sheriff change Jonas into an honest man?  Will the boy walk again?  Will the small town ever see rain?  If you answered "no" to any of these questions you've most likely been living under a rock.

Raul Esparza in the L.A. production of the show
Told as a flashback story framed by a revival meeting that Jonas is giving at the actual Broadway theatre the musical is playing at, the framing device doesn't exactly always work and is basically tossed to the side by act two. The beginning and end are also somewhat glossed over with loud choral music sung by the energetic ensemble that gets in the way of having a clear introduction into the flashback part of the story as well as exactly what Jonas did after he left that Sweetwater and ended up at the St. James theatre on Broadway.  The musical did have an out of town tryout in L.A. in 2010 with Esparza and some of the same cast.  I'm not sure if there were other issues with the show that were fixed before it started previews on Broadway, but hopefully the current issues can be resolved before the musical officially opens on April 26th.

Phillips and Esparza in a promo shot
for the show
Raul Esparza is giving yet another of his energetic performances.  It is just too bad that not all of the songs he is given to sing are easy to deliver, with some of the songs having lyrics that are jammed into the score, sometimes setting them up strangely against the music.  Esparza is a very talented singer so hopefully the score issues will be addressed as well.   Phillips is perfect as the town sheriff and protector who is not only watching out for her son but the entire town while at the same time falling for a man even when she knows he is out to do the town wrong.  It is a somewhat difficult part to play but Phillips succeeds.  She has a nice country twang to her delivery and reminded me a lot of Dee Hoty from her Will Rogers Follies and Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public days.

The cast also includes Kendra Kassebaum as Jonas' sister and Kecia Lewis-Evans as the leader of the choir.  Both are fully developed characters, with plenty of moments to add to the plot as well as several moments to show off their signing chops,  Lewis-Evans in particular blows the roof off the theatre at several times in the show.  Also feature is Leslie Odom, Jr. as Lewis-Evan's son as the young man who left the group and came back as a legitimate preacher.  He is a good catalyst for some of the action.  Odom, Jr. is currently co starring on the tv show Smash and it is nice to see him live in a real Broadway show.  Talon Ackerman as Phillip's teenage son is giving a great performance, polished, real and sincere and I am looking forward to seeing a hopefully long career from him in the future.

Kecia Lewis-Evans and Leslie Odom, Jr in the L.A.
production of the show
Composer Alan Menken now has three shows running on Broadway, Newsies, Sister  Act and Leap of Faith  It is just too bad that the score for Leap of Faith is the least polished of the three.  Also, the choral numbers for Sister Act are much better and memorable then the ones in Leap.  Now the character songs are pretty good, including a great one in act two for all of the leads, called "Are You On The Bus?," two good duets for Esparza and Phillips, one in each act, "I Can Read You" and "Long Past Dreamin'" and a great song for Lewis-Evans called "Lost."  Unfortunately Raul's big act two solo called "Jonas' Soliloquy" could be a little better.  Lyricist Glenn Slater has some good lyric rhymes but could work on some of Jonas' songs to make the lyrics fit the music better.

The set design by Robin Wagner includes a revival tent that is built before our eyes as well as a few set pieces that slide on and off.  The set also features ramps and stairs that go out into the audience as well as up into the mezzanine.  But the revival tent set piece is the focus here and moves in various positions throughout the show.  Costumes by William Ivey Long are fine and include a mirrored suit jacket for Jonas to wear at one point.

The show is one of those shows where act two is actually better than act one.  It might be because a lot of what happens in act one is repetitive since we already know at the beginning just who Jonas is so we don't need to keep being told that over and over again.  In the second act we see the changes all of the characters make as well as really have a more emotional connection to the material.  There are also a couple of really nice theatrical moments toward the end of the show that continue on into the curtain call.  So while I was somewhat moved by the last 15 minutes of the show a lot of what came before that was muddy, unfocused with some musical moments that were bland or repetitive.   Hopefully director Christopher Ashley can firm up the issues with the show before it opens in two weeks as there is a good show within the preview performance we saw that with the right bit of editing and work can easily shine through.

But no matter the issue I had with the material, it is Esparza's show, and his energy in the role as well as his interactions with Phillips and the other lead actors, especially with young Ackerman, is excellent and I think he will easily see his fifth Tony nomination for this role if not finally winning a well deserved Tony for this performance.  While on one hand I kinda see this show as equivalent to last years Catch Me If You Can, and like that show it might walk away with a lead Tony win, nothing else and be closed by Labor Day.  But while I liked Catch Me better than Leap of Faith, there is a somewhat more emotional connection to this show and the audience around me was having a great time, so this show might just catch on and have a healthy run.

Official Show Site

Broadway.com compilation of behind the scenes interviews and rehearsal performance footage:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

cd review ROBERT CREIGHTON, Ain't We Got Fun

Wow!  The new cd from Robert Creighton might just be the best debut recording from a Broadway performer in years.  And why I say that is not only due to Creighton's impressive vocal abilities, the song selections and the Broadway guest stars he has included but also because Creighton completely avoids all of the fall backs Broadway performers seem to lean on when releasing a debut recording.  There are no songs from Sondheim or Lloyd Webber, no story songs from some hip or up and coming composer and except for two original songs, the most recent selection was written in 1944.  This is definitely not your usual Broadway debut solo cd.

Now while Creighton isn't exactly a household or even an A list Broadway name, like his costars in his recent Broadway show Anything Goes Joel Grey and Sutton Foster, he has appeared in numerous Broadway shows including Chicago, The Little Mermaid,  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Lion King.  The two original songs on this cd are from a new musical about Jimmy Cagney that Creighton co-created, starred in and wrote the songs for, simply called Cagney!, but more on those songs later.

The cd starts off with a "Dad's Medley" that gives us the brief back story of Creighton and how as a young boy he would perform for his family.  A bouncy "Ain't We Got Fun" is next followed by one of the impressive new songs from Cagney!, "Crazy 'Bout You" that features some talented guitar playing by Eric B. Davis.  It fits perfectly within the other, older standards on the cd, which is a high compliment.  One of my favorite tracks on the recording is "My Buddy" that includes a lovely guitar arrangement that not only gives Davis another chance to shine but also is highlighted by the way Creighton's phrasing and his voice drives home the meaning of the lyrics in a simple, understated way.

The first of Creighton's guest stars is Tituss Burgess who starts off "Accentuate the Positive" with his usual flair.  Creighton joins in by adding a lovely counterpoint with "Look for the Silver Lining" that pairs perfectly with Burgess with both men hitting some impressive notes at the end.  A fun barbershop quarter arrangement of "I Want a Girl (Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad) with Daniel J. Edwards, John Treacy Egan, Merwin Foard and Brent-Alan Huffman includes some great harmonies backing Creighton up and has a really great finish. 

Now, back to those two original songs from Creighton and Cagney!:  The next track is my favorite song on the cd, called "Fallin' In Love With You."  It is a lovely duet with great lyrics, perfect musical phrasing and is supported by a lovely arrangement.  Creighton is joined by Kate Baldwin on this track and the two of them are definitely having a fun time together.  Cagney! had its world premiere in Florida three years ago and based on the two songs from the show on this cd I hope Creighton is able to get a production in New York happening soon.

"If You Were The Only Girl in the World" is my second favorite track on the recording.  It has a great arrangement and Creighton's vocals on this track are so impressive with his perfect delivery of the simple meaning behind the lyrics.  Heidi Blickenstaff joins in for a lively "You Are My Sunshine" that is followed by a touching and very emotional take on "I'll Be Seeing You" that features some impressive flugelhorn playing by Joe Burgstaller.

An impressive arrangement of "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" perfectly compliments Creighton's vocals.  I love how Creighton's whistling at the end of the song is mirrored by the instruments. Next up are two tracks closely associated with James Cagney when he portrayed George M. Cohan in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy.  "Give My Regards to Broadway" features a lovely duet with Joel Grey and the joy the two men are having signing together comes through on the recording.  Creighton actually understudies for Grey in Anything Goes.  An upbeat "Yankee Doodle Dandy" follows including a lovely tap solo in the middle.

The final track on the cd is a lovely version of "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" with no vocal but instead a touching trumpet solo.  While this might seem a little odd if you don't have the liner notes handy, but when checking them you will see that it is Creighton himself imitating a trumpet solo with his lips - and what a lovely solo it is.  The man seems like he can do just about anything.

The cd was produced by Georgia Stitt who also provided many of the arrangements as well as most of the piano accompaniment.   This is an impressive effort by Stitt.

I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing Cagney! and seeing and hearing more of Creighton in the future.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

theatre review CARRIE, Off Broadway, April 3

We journeyed back to see Carrie, the Musical again last night and enjoyed it just as much the second time as the first.  Here is my review of our initial trip to see this show. 

As could be expected the show has gotten even tighter then it was when we saw it back in previews, the cast has gelled more as well as the performances are even more honed now then before.  Molly Ranson and Marin Mazzie are still hitting it out of the park in their portrayal of Carrie and her crazy, religious mother Margaret.  And I did appreciate the supporting cast more this time.  Not sure if initially I was so focused on what had been changed from the original 1988 Broadway flop version of this show that I didn't focus much on the supporting cast or if they've had some time to grow into the roles now.  (My blog post about the history of the show can be found here.)

The four main supporting "student" parts are basically portrayals of good and evil with Christy Altomare and Derek Klena being the "good" couple and Jeanna de Waal and Ben Thompson the "bad" ones.  All four are delivering on what is expected of them, even if they are somewhat stereotypical parts.  We did have two understudies last night, Anne Tolpegin was on for the gym teacher Mrs. Gardner and I actually liked her take on that role better than Carmen Cusack's and Jake Boyd was on for one of the high school boys.

We were seated further back then back in February when we were in the first row and it allowed the opportunity to get a better idea as to the overall staging and set design as well as the direction from Stafford Arima.  One scene in particular, Margaret's solo "When There's No One," is highly effective from further back as during the song, the entire theatre slowly fades to black with only a single spotlight on Mazzie's face as she is surrounded by dozens of candle's scattered around the entire stage.  It is chilling, eerie and perfectly in sync with the lyrics of the song.

Not much more for me to say than what I said in my original review.  Just too bad this production won't have an extended life.  I'm still praying they make a cast recording, but since the show closes on Sunday it looks like the chance of that happening are getting slimmer by the day.

theatre review TWELVE ANGRY MEN, George Street Playhouse, April 1

Twelve Angry Men is the ultimate ensemble dramatic play.  Every one of the twelve actors gets a moment to shine in it and the revival of the play at the George Sreet Playhouse has a excellent cast with several firecracker performances.  The play itself started as an hour long tv drama in 1954, was expanded for the 1957 Oscar nominated film and also reshaped as a 100 minute one act play.  The author of all three of these versions in Reginald Rose who was inspired to write this after he served as a juror on a manslaughter case.

The play is set in 1954, on a very hot day, and starts right when the jury enters the jury room to begin deliberations on a murder case.  The 12 jurors are all white men of various ages and the 16 year old boy who is on trial for murdering is father we quickly learn is most definitely not white.  They must reach a unanimous decision and when they take their first vote, just moments after they enter the room, they quickly learn that 11 of them believe the boy is guilty where as one believes he is innocent.  That one man has some question about the "beyond a reasonable doubt" part of the guilty verdict and he begins to bring up various pieces of evidence that were presented in the case to question as well as has serious issues around the lack of concern and attention to detail on the part of the boy's court appointed lawyer.  The play is a well written demonstration of various views of racism, aging, father/son rebellion and the impacts all of those have on the twelve men in the room.  It is also an interesting demonstration of the judicial system where one man is to be judged by a jury of his peers, which is especially concerning when the peers in front of you are nothing like you and come in with already preconceived judgements.  
John Bolger, Michael Sirow, Jonathan Hadary, David Schramm, Terry Layman,
Gregg Edelman and David Adkins.

Led by Gregg Edelman as the lone "not guilty" voting juror, who quietly and slowly works his concerns of the trial and thoughts on the rest of the jurors, he so simply but effectively portrays this man who is fighting for justice that we've all seen before.  He keeps his cool even when many of the men around him don't and provides the one constant glimmer of hope throughout the play.  David Schramm and James Rebhorn are the two most obstinate people in the room and the two loudest.  Schramm is the loud mouth bigot and Rebhorn is the juror who has plenty of issues with his son.  They are excellent in portraying the opposite side that Edelman is on.  Both men get themselves so worked up during the deliberations that you literally wouldn't be surprised if one of them has a heart attack, that is how accurate their portrayals are.  
James Rebhorn being held back at an explosive moment
in the play 

Jonathan Hadary and Terry Layman are the foreign juror and oldest juror respectively who both come to Edelman's understanding earlier then the rest and are ridiculed by the others for doing so.  Hadary in particular is so perfectly stated in his portrayal.  He is polished in his Eastern European accent and demeanor and appears so much more accepting of the responsibility and importance of being called to serve as a juror.  That role is quickly lost on a few of the other fellow jurors, Jonathan C. Kaplan in particular, who would rather get their juror sentence over as quickly as possible so they can get back to their lives.  Kaplan can't stop going on about the baseball tickets he has for that night and he is always rushing the others to make decisions.  (Kaplan was actually nominated for a Tony in 1993 as 13 year old Jason in the Tony winning musical Falsettos.  I saw him twice in that role and it is nice to see him all grown up and acting in a serious drama.)

Hadary, Rebhorn, Schramm, Layman, Sirow, Kaplan,
Sellars and Edelman
Scott Drummond and Michael Sirow are the two youngest jurors who let the older men have most of the say in the matters, but both are easily stirred to action when they find themselves caught in the crossfire of the other jurors as well as when issues that are directly related to their upbringing, Sirows in particular, are up for debate.  David Adkins is the wealthy businessman who tries to be calm and cool and is very reserved about the proceedings until he realizes that he starts to have his doubts as well about his initial guilty vote.  John Bolger, Jim Bracchitta and Lee Sellars round out the 12 jurors and they all get a moment or two to shine, add to the conversation as well as the decisions that the jurors make.  There isn't one bad actor on stage here.

Director and George Street Artistic Director David Saint can be commended once more for not only his superb, taught direction but for assembling a top notch catch.  The effective set design by R. Michael Miller perfectly grounds the action in the 1950's with a period perfect giant room. The pre-existing sweat stains alone on Schramm's shirt earn costume designer Esther Arroyo a huge award.  The rest of the costumes are designed perfectly to easily establish the various different classes and ages of the jurors. 

Twelve Angry Men only runs through this Sunday- don't miss it.

Official George Street Playhouse Site

Highlights from this production:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

theatre review LOOK BACK IN ANGER, Off Broadway, March 31

The "angry young man" is a well known character in both plays and movies.  But that term wasn't known until the mid 1950's when John Osborne's play Look Bank in Anger burst upon the London stage.  Over the course of three acts, we meet and get to know Jimmy Porter and his three friends, and while they are pretty much all angry it is Jimmy who is the angry young man in question, and boy is he angry.   He is a working class man but one with an education, but he is angry at everything from his wife, his job, his friends, family, the mediocrity of his generation and the class system in general.  After years of posh upper crust English plays like The Importance of Being Earnest and Blithe Spirit one can hardly grasp the gasps that must have come from the audience when they saw the characters and language that was in front of them when Look Back in Anger first premiered.  Supposedly just the sight of an ironing board on the stage alone when the curtain went up dress gasps.  Imagine an ironing board on stage in either Earnest or Blithe Spirit!

Matthew Rhys and Sarah Goldberg
Jimmy is an intellectual bad boy and it is easy to see why both his wife and her friend fall for him, even though both ladies are from a much higher class on the class scale.  Even Cliff who rents the room next door is drawn to Jimmy.  Jimmy is a man fighting but with no cause or crusade.  It is as if Osborne is saying that this is what centuries of the class system in England have spit out.

Today the shock of the play is nothing compared to what it must have been like almost sixty years ago but this revival of the play is still shocking in its ability to cut to the raw nerve at the center of the piece.  It gets there by having one of the most minimal set designs in recent history as the entire stage is about six feet deep and consists of a black back wall, a mattress, a couple of dressers, a few chairs and an ironing board.  This minimalistic approach is effective in grounding us in the reality of how Jimmy and his wife Allison are living.  The stage is on a slightly higher platform than usual as if the four characters are on display for us and in such a small setting as if they are trapped with no where to go.  If this idea of being trapped and lost was what director Sam Gold was going for then he vastly succeeded.

Adam Driver, Sarah Goldberg and Matthew Rhys-
this is about 1/2 of the entire set!
 The cast is simply superb.  Led by Matthew Rhys, best known as Kevin from tv's Brothers and Sisters, he is so effective as Jimmy that he perfectly gets under the skin  of the character ringing every nuance out of Osborne's language.  His emotional range alone is amazing and the way he delivers the words, almost in the way a poet would, makes the other characters and the audience pay attention.  You can easily see how others would be drawn to him.  He is exciting and intense but you also see in his eyes the love that he has for the other characters.  He also plays a pretty good trumpet, even if he only knows a few notes.

Matthew Rhys and Charlotte Parry
The supporting cast is just as good,  Sarah Goldberg as Jimmy's wife Alison is quiet and reserved around Jimmy as if trying not to wake the sleeping, angry giant.  The way that Alison tears into a head of lettuce when she makes a salad more than exhibits in frustration as well as what her true feelings for life are.  Adam Driver as Cliff so perfectly exhibits the lost youth who clamors for anything to excite him and when that excitement comes in Jimmy and Alison you know there won't be much of a happy ending for him.  Charlotte Parry as Helena is excellent at playing two sides of a character, the upper crust one who looks down upon the life that Alison has made with Jimmy but then finds herself, in a very humorous moment in the second act, living exactly the same existence as Alison.

Look Back in Anger is an interesting play in that while it is about desperation and how characters are drawn to others while being used or using them it is also about lost youth and how society has forced some individuals to only achieve certain levels of success.  Seeing this show in a weekend when we saw the new play Clybourne Park and the classic drama Twelve Angry Men was very interesting as they all deal with the issue of race or class and how society treats people differently.  This production only runs through this Sunday, April 8th, don't miss your chance to see this excellent production.

Official Show Site

Highlights from this production:

Monday, April 2, 2012

theatre review CLYBOURNE PARK, Broadway, March 30

The new Broadway play Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris comes to Broadway with a pretty high pedigree.  It won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2011 Olivier Award for Best New Play.  I'm not certain if  it is because I went in with somewhat high expectations knowing the play had won those awards but I was basically underwhelmed by the play.

Set in a house in Chicago's Clybourne Park district, the play tells the story of two different sets of characters.  In act one, set in 1959, those characters include a middle aged white couple who experience a tragedy in their lives and are moving out of their house in just a few days.  Various members of their community come to visit them one day when they learn that the family the house has been sold to isn't white.  The concern as to what this will do to the rest of the area is the driving force to try to get the couple to change their minds about selling the house to this family.  However the husband doesn't want to listen to their concerns since they all pretty much turned their backs on him and his wife before and after they experienced the tragedy that had a huge impact on their lives.

In act two, set in 2009, we see the same house, now in disarray, and the young white urban couple who are in the final stages to begin demolishing the house after they recently purchased it. You see, because the neighborhood is so close to downtown, white families are looking to move back into the area, so even though the community is run down, it is suddenly hot again.  The couple are surrounded by members of the homeowners association and their lawyer as it seems their plans aren't exactly in line with the by laws of the association.  The concern is that their house will now be larger then those surrounding it and of a more modern architecture, thus providing concern as to what it will do to the neighborhood. 

Christina Kirk and Frank Wood
The play touches on many themes and ideas.  Everything from racism, sexism and racial integration to issues around class, housing, the gentrification of neighborhoods and how people feel about their neighbors is present.  And a key element is how the perceptions neighbors have when their fellow neighbor's children come back from fighting overseas might not be exactly correct and could eventually not only force a family to move out of the area but for their son to commit suicide.

While Clybourne Park is a well written and acted play, I guess the major issue I had with it is that it is supposed to be a take off or homage to the classic drama A Raisin in the Sun.  The house the play is set in is the same one that the family in A Raisin in the Sun is moving into, as the black family in that play is the family who bought the house.  Even a minor character in Raisin is a character in Clybourne Park, the one most desperate and forceful about getting the family in act one not to sell the house.  But if you didn't know that connection going in, which I'm not sure the average theater goer would know, I'm not sure how it is relevant to the play,  it is more like Norris is simply staying, "look how cool I am that I wrote this play set in the same house mentioned in this other classic drama and touching on some of the same issues in that famous play."  And while I understand that Norris is trying to get the point across that basically nothing has changed over fifty years as it concerns racism, to me that point has been made by other plays and movies and, in better ways then in this play.

Christina Kirk, Jeremy Shamos, Annie Parisse, Brendan Griffin,
 Damon Gupton and Crystal A. Dickinson
Also, in attempting to be controversial and comical, it just comes off as mundane and even somewhat amateurish due to the constant laziness in act two on drawing upon racial jokes to show us how nothing has changed.  And the fact that the seven member cast plays the characters in both acts, and only two of the actors are black, means that in act two when the community is supposed to be an African American community it still seems like it is the whites that are running the show.   It would have been nice to see this show have a larger cast and to really see how even when the tables turn, and the whites aren't in the majority, that the African Americans who now live in or own the houses in this community still exhibit many of the same actions that the white families did 50 years ago.

Now I did like how several comments or scenes in act one were replayed but with different results in act two, especially a joke about skiing.  And the constant interruption of the character's cell phones in act two that gets in the middle of important conversations was perfectly delivered and oh so accurate. Also, the cast was pretty good, especially Frank Wood and Christina Kirk as the couple selling the house in act one.  Kirk so perfectly portrayed the part of the condescending 1950's housewife and the lawyer in act two who always has to turn the conversation back to herself.  Jeremy Shamos and Annie Parisse are also quite good as a married couple in both acts, in act one it is Shamos' character who is desperate to get the house sale not finalized and in act two they are the couple renovating the house.  Crystal A. Dickinson is the black domestic helper in act one who tries her best to ignore the condescending behavior of her employer.  As good as she is, I just wish that her character in act two wasn't drawn from the same mold as her act one character.

Unlike Raisin in the Sun, I don't think Cybourne Park will be remembered in fifty years except as a footnote to that other famous play.  So, count me in the minority for my reaction to this play, though at Friday night's performance there were only about a half dozen people who stood up during the curtain call, so this might be a play that the critics love but most audiences, like me, are left wanting more.

Official Show Site

Highlights from the show: