Tuesday, June 25, 2013

cabaret review STEVEN ZUMBO, Don't Tell Mama's, June 21

Steven Zumbo's latest cabaret show is his best yet.  After having performed various shows at various cabaret clubs over the past fifteen plus years, Zumbo has definitely hit his stride in the last few years in the way he structures his shows.  You see, Steven is a naturally very funny guy, but a funny guy with a serious side too.  So, how do you find the right balance between the comedic and the serious to get across the person you are without making the show too much of a downer or too funny?  Well, Steven has figured out that balance and his current show perfectly gets across Steven's personality.

Entitled "Where the Hell Did I Put My Glasses?" Zumbo's show is his most themed one yet.  He often mentions how he eschews a theme, but he has actually come up with one - a show all about memory - that plays perfectly into his personality and the idea of getting older - something that almost everyone in the audience immediately identified with.   He has also come up with a winner of an opening number, a rewritten version of the hit song "Memory" from Cats that is all about memory loss.  With revised lyrics by Pam Peterson the song begins with "Midnight, I wake up and remember that I left the door open, with my groceries outside" and includes such other great lines like ,"Damn, what did I walk in this room for?"  and "Did I turn both burners off, or is my house on fire?"  The lyrics and Steven's delivery of them, ironically set against the well known music of "Memory" literally brought the house down. 

Steven's take on "The Kid Inside" from the Craig Carnelia musical Is There Life After High School? was another winner that allowed Steven to reflect back on the memories of our high school days we all remember, with a song that is reflective, touching and has a soaring end to it.  It is a song that begins somewhat quietly and then gets bigger and bigger as it goes on, and Steven was more than up to the challenge that the song required. 

For the past several years Zumbo has always included a "Broadway Backwards" moment in his shows where he sings a Broadway show tune that is usually performed by a woman.  His selection for this show couldn't have been better with the hilarious Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne Gypsy song "You Gotta Get a Gimmick."  Performed in the musical by three female strippers, Steven used a few simple props to get across the three characters in the song and blew the roof off the cabaret room with his performance.  His stripper gyrations alone were worth the $15 cover charge.

Another highlight, and a nod to the Supreme Court's pending ruling on Same Sex Marriage was "Get Me to the Church on Time" from My Fair Lady where Zumbo and musical director Gerry Dieffenbach performed a rousing take on that crowd pleaser.  "Way Ahead of My Time" by Peter Mills starts with some serious chords and lyrics before turning into a true comic gem about being different from the other cavemen.  Steven's delivery was exceptional and included some added Fosse-like dance moves to make the song even more over the top then it already was.   But there were some ballads and quiet songs that Steven also expertly delivered including a lovely "The Way We Were," a heartfelt "It Was Me" and a bouncy "You Go to My Head."  An Encore of "Over the Rainbow" was simply stunning. 

With a winning personality, excellent song selections and short but well thought out patter, Zumbo is really at the height of his game.

Steven performs two more times this week- don't miss it!

Direction by Helen Baldassare, musical direction by Gerry Dieffenbach

Don't Tell Mama's website

theatre review NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, Broadway, June 13

Having enjoyed the Gershwin musical Nice Work If You Can Get It when we saw it in previews last year, we decided to go back and see it again before it closed.  It not only gave us a chance to see Matthew Broderick in the male lead role again but also see Jessie Mueller who took over for Kelli O'Hara as the lead female role.

Mueller seems to be the Broadway "it" girl of the moment, having appeared in four high calibre New York productions in the last 18 months.  She co-starred with Harry Connick Jr in the 2011 Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and received a Tony nomination for her efforts.  She followed that by playing Cinderella in the Shakespeare in the Park production of Into the Woods last Summer and then appeared as Helena Landless in the Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood last Winter.  She basically hasn't stopped working.  

Her turn in Nice Work is on par with her other performances and while she might not have any scenery to chew in this show like she did in Drood she actually comes across better than O'Hara did.  The role is a tomboy bootlegger and O'Hara is a little too refined to fully get that across whereas Mueller once again shows her skills to not only accurately portray a character unlike any we've seen her play before but her vocal abilities are truly special.  She actually sounds a lot like Doris Day, which based on her past shows I know is a style she is only incorporating for this role and it works sublimely. I expect even greater things from Mueller in the future. 

Jessie Mueller and Matthew Broderick
Broderick is still having a grand time in the show, though it did seem like he was joking around with the rest of the cast more than usual.  But that was probably due to the fact that they only had four more shows left in the run.

The rest of the featured cast is intact from last year with Tony winners Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath still joyous in their roles.  Jennifer Laura Thompson is still a hoot as Broderick's third finance/wife and gets plenty of laughs in her attempts at modern dance.  Also, Chris Sullivan and Robyn Hurder are even more delightful than before as the mismatched chorus girl and big lug who find a mutual attraction to each other.

For my overview of the plot of the show read my review of the preview we attended last year here.  

The show ended its Broadway run last week.  With the high amount of comedy and those gorgeous Gershwin tunes I expect this show will see plenty of regional productions in years to come. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

concert review PATTI LUPONE and the NJSO, June 2

For all of the intensity Patti LuPone is known for bringing to her performances it is almost equally matched with the joy she exudes when performing with an orchestra.  Watching Patti sing with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in a concert version of her cabaret show "Far Away Places" brought a smile to your face watching the fun and excitement Patti had performing with this large orchestra.

Patti says she's always considered herself to be a "gypsy" and one who has "wanderlust" so an evening about songs that are set all over the world seemed like a perfect fit for LuPone to tell us about herself, her journeys and her experiences in far away places.  With a heavy focus on Kurt Weill, the selection of material was eclectic yet still provided a good mix of serious songs, humorous character pieces and a few show tunes as well.

This show was one that Patti originally premiered last summer during the inaugural opening weeks of the hit new cabaret spot 54 Below in New York.  But there she was only accompanied by a small group of musicians so you can easily understand why Patti is having such a grand time when singing these songs with such a large orchestra.  Fortunately, she is having just as fun performing these songs and singing with the NJSO as we are listening to her sing them.

"Gypsy in my Soul" is the perfect song to start off the evening as the lyrics expertly set up the idea of someone with wanderlust.  Patti's voice soared throughout with a final note that practically tore the roof off the State Theatre.  "Far Away Places" by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney is a joyous yet quiet song that has similar lyrics to "Gypsy in my Soul" but it also moves Patti's journey along with simple lyrics of these far away places calling to come see them for yourself.  Patti's understated but direct delivery of the song is a testament to her ability to get the meaning of even a simple, sweet and understated song across.  A swinging version of Willie Nelson's "Night Life" provided Patti a springboard to speak about the fact that "the night life ain't no good life, but it's my life."

There is plenty of serious material in the show including several Weill songs.  A loose yet direct version of "Bilbao Song" that Patti sings after speaking about the way New York used to be when Times Square was a little more dirty than it is today, perfectly echoes the memories that one thinks they remember from the past.  Weill's "September Song" receives a superlative treatment as does his "Pirate Jenny".   "Jenny" is delivered in the middle of a series of water themed songs that begins with a segment of Weill's "Ah the Sea is Blue" as well as Johnny Green and Edward Heyman's beautiful and romantic "I Cover the Waterfront" and Sondheim's "By the Sea" from Sweeney Todd.   Patti brings a rich, emotional intensity to this suite of songs, finding the perfect tone to make them all fit together nicely with Patti's delivery of "Pirate Jenny" the jewel in this sea set suite.

A nice pairing of two "market" songs includes the more intense "Black Market" by Frederick Hollander followed by the humorous "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking" by Cole Porter.  Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be Around," which Patti dubbed "the Sicilian National anthem" after mentioning that she has Sicilian blood provided a nice touch of comedy.  Bill Burnett and Marguerite Sarlin's "I Regret Everything," which Patti has sung in some of her other shows before, was a perfect comic moment after the more serious suite of sea themed songs. 

One of Patti's encores was her second act solo "Invisible" from her recent Tony nominated performance in David Yazbek's Broadway musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  Taken out of context of this not so well received show it actually worked better as it let you focus more on the story of the character singing the song and less about the crazy goings on in the musical around it.

Joseph Thalken orchestrated the material from Patti's cabaret show for a full orchestra and the results were breathtaking.  We've seen many concerts by the NJSO, but this eclectic selection of material showed their ability to play a wide range of songs that was almost as far from your standard selection of classic orchestra music as possible.

Patti's set was actually the second half of the concert with the NJSO performing solo for the first act of the evening that included several Rodgers and Hammerstein overtures from their shows that are set in far off lands as well as a superb suite from Rodger's Victory at Sea tv score.  A loving arrangement of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" showcased the superb skills of the NJSO string section.  Rob Fisher expertly led the orchestra for both acts.  "Far Away Places" was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman and this version, with a full orchestra is also set to be presented at Carnegie Hall in November.

Playbill highlights video from Patti's 54 Below concert of this show:

Monday, June 10, 2013

theatre review F#%KING UP EVERYTHING, Off Broadway, May 30

The new Off Broadway "rock" musical
F#%king Up Everything is a throw back to the old fashioned "boy meets girl, but with complications" love story that's been around forever.

Following a small group of young Brooklyn hipsters, this is a sweet and charming show and while the story is far from original and you can predict from the start where almost every character will end up, it's still a fun show with an engaging cast, some sweet songs and a rocking on-stage band.

Max Crumm

Nerdy Christian (Max Crumm) and jock/bad boy Jake (Jason Gotay) are best friends.  Jake is the lead singer of a band who's trying to make it in the Brooklyn rock scene and Christian is a children's puppeteer.  They are almost complete opposites in their looks, demeanor and lines of work but make a good duo.  When Jake's gal pal Ivy (Dawn Cantwell) introduces her college friend, singer songwriter Juliana (Katherine Cozumel) to the group, Christian falls hard for her, though is concerned that the more experienced in love Jake will complicate matters by turning on his bad boy charms.  Add in the fact that Ivy secretly loves Jakes and two other supporting characters, Ivy's sometime boyfriend and full time stoner Tony (Douglas Widick) who plays in Jake's band and band promoter Arielle (Lisa Birnbaum) who can make or break an up and coming band and you've got an interesting cast of characters who all have things to gain and lose in this modern day story of romance, rock and puppets.

Katherine Cozumel and Max Crumm
The story follows the unconventional courtship of Christian and Juliana, he is nerdy, clumsy and not exactly attractive and she is everything he isn't, but they form an almost immediate connection and end up bringing out the best in each other.  Now you know right away that they will end up together, no matter what obstacles they encounter. So I don't think I'm divulging any spoilers by revealing that but Sam Forman and David Eric Davis who collaborated on the book with Forman supplying the music and lyrics have created realistic characters and situations in a completely self aware show. The book has fresh and real dialogue with plenty of humor and Davis' score has a wide spectrum of songs including some upbeat numbers, emotional ballads and comical numbers. And while not all of them land perfectly, the range of styles and effective use of lyrics makes you pay attention.

Jason Gotay, Lisa Birnbaum and Max Crumm
Jen Wineman skillfully directs and choreographs the well honed young and energetic cast that features Max Crumm as Christian.  Crumm rose to fame by winning the role of Danny in the recent 2007 Broadway revival of Grease on the tv competition show Grease- You're the One that I Want that also saw Laura Osnes win the role of Sandy in that competitive reality show.   Osnes has followed her Grease run by winning two Tony nominations and starring in several Broadway productions, concerts and just released her second solo recording.  Crumm hasn't had such a high profile career as Osnes but this musical perfectly shows off his talents and proves that his winning that tv competition wasn't a fluke.  He makes Christian a real, grounded person and throws himself into the part.  While this is an ensemble show, Christian is really the central character and this production is lucky to have Crumm in the part.

Dawn Cantwell, Douglas Widick and Katherine Cozumel
Gotay is the hip, attractive rock star Jake who could be a caricature role.  Thankfully Gotay has the right balance to not make it a one dimensional part and Forman and Davis have created some interesting situations to put Jake into that give Gotay some nice moments to show off his comic abilities.  Katherine Cozumel is winning as Juliana.  She not only looks beautiful but plays the ukulele as well!  Rounding out the cast are Cantwell, Burnbaum and Widick who all get some nice stage time.  Cantwell gets to show off her sensitive side with the power ballad "If You Were Mine" where she pours out her feelings for Jake and even though Birnbaum doesn't show up until about half way through the show, she enters singing "Fuck-It List" which is a very funny song that allows Birnbaum to blow the roof off of the theatre with her high powered voice.  Widick is just hilarious as the stoner with a secret and rocks out big time when he plays with the on-stage band. 

The band must also not be forgotten, including drummer George Salazar who is featured in a few scenes, guitarist Adam Stoler and keyboardist, guitarist Eli Zoller who also serves as the music director.  They are having a fun time playing the rock inspired score.  Set designer Deb O makes effective use of the simple, small space and the puppet designs by David Valentine are truly inspired. 

F#%king Up Everything isn't the most original or greatest show to hit New York this year, but it is fresh, inspired, upbeat and realistic with a winning cast, characters and dialogue that have a genuine self awareness and a score with some nice tunes.   It's a fun show that makes for a fun night out at the theatre.

Official Website